Edinburgh Film Festival review: Boyz in the Wood

Given the Edinburgh International Film Festival’s propensity for screening wretched homegrown comedies such a Scottish Mussel — surely a candidate for the most incompetent film ever screened at the event — one could be forgiven for fearing the worst when the Highlands-set Boyz in the Wood was announced as this year’s opening film. Happily though, Edinburgh-born filmmaker Ninian Doff’s debut feature is properly funny — a riotous teen movie/horror mash-up that confidently veers from gross-out humour to surreal flights of fancy to crude, but surprisingly pointed, social commentary without overstaying its welcome.

A scene from Boyz in the Wood
A scene from Boyz in the Wood

Boyz in the Wood ****

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Built around a Duke of Edinburgh Award attempt gone awry, the film strands its band of four teenage misfits in the great outdoors while Eddie Izzard’s tweedy, mask-wearing aristocrat (also known as The Duke) hunts them for sport, The Most Dangerous Game-style.

Doff — who got his start making music promos — sets the raucous, irreverent tone early with a retro public information film delivering a very potted, very unofficial history of the aforementioned awards scheme before swiftly sketching out the backstories of his protagonists. Delinquent Dean (Rian Gordon), dim-witted Duncan (Lewis Gribben) and the self-styled, desperate-to-be-streetwise DJ ‘Beatroot’ (Viraj Juneja) have all been forced to participate as punishment for blowing up a toilet while making a gloriously bad taste rap video; nerdy home-schooled Ian, meanwhile, just wants to get his Duke of Edinburgh award but doesn’t have any friends of his own to do it with.

High school movie archetypes duly established, the film is less interested in subverting these tropes than it is in using them as a solid foundation for the freewheeling hi-jinks that follow as class politics, psychedelic rabbit poo and a couple of action-starved cops (played by the hilariously deadpan Kate Dickie and Kevin Guthrie) collide. Stylistically, Edgar Wright would be the lazy reference point; but Taika Waititi is the more natural one — like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the film doubles down on the cultural specificity of its setting, mining laughs from its heightened conception of the Scottish Highlands while resisting the urge to fall back on the sort of lazy stereotypes that even Ken Loach couldn’t resist perpetuating in his cringeworthy whisky caper The Angel’s Share. Boyz marks Doff out as a real talent to watch — and the young cast are a blast too. - Alistair Harkness