Little Box of Horrors: Slaughterhouse Rulez.
Nick Frost and Simon Pegg produce and co-star in a weird, inexplicable monster movie.
It’s been a while since we trekked down to the local Red Box, but this time the trip was worth it. Thanks to a thumbnail in an email (thanks for the 75¢ off, Red Box, you’re too kind) I knew I had to see Slaughterhouse Rulez. It looked like Battle Royale and Spy Kids had a baby, and featured Michael Sheen, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost front and center. What’s not to love? Even after having seen it, I cannot really describe what this movie is like. That winds up being a bit of the charm.
Slaughterhouse Rulez (2018).
Don (Finn Cole) arrives at Slaughterhouse Academy, pressured by his mother into making something of himself. He’s paired with a nihilistic roommate named Willoughby (Asa Butterfield) and instantly runs afoul of the strict school hierarchy when he falls for the lovely, upper-class Clemsie (Hermione Corfield). He’s got bigger problems than jocks and preps to worry about: the headmaster (Michael Sheen) has cozied up to a fracking company, which has inadvertently opened up a sinkhole filled with methane-loving monsters.
What am I Even Watching?
The box art of this flick gave the impression that this movie was a hybrid of some sort. It winds up being much more complicated than that. We start with a “slobs vs. snobs” kind of teen drama, which winds up being fairly effective as Tom Rhys-Harries plays a wonderfully psychopathic senior who attempts to crush Don and Willoughby at every turn. He’s Mark Metcalf’s rigid bully from Animal House mixed with Malfoy from Harry Potter.
From there we pivot to a rather passable swipe at environmentalist fare, like Hoot if you replaced the endangered owls with the demon dogs from Ghostbusters.
Finally, we get a blood soaked “kids on the run” film, equal parts Goonies and Gremlins. By the end of the film, I could think of twelve movies Slaughterhouse Rulez has pieces of, but couldn’t for the life of me decide what you’d actually call the movie itself.
Bait and Switch?
Based on the promo material, you’d figure this was another delightful Nick Frost/Simon Pegg romp, just with the excellent addition of Michael Sheen. It’s really much more the story of the children, with relative newcomer Finn Cole carrying the brunt of the load. You’d also think there would be much more Shaun of the Dead style monster bashing, but the monsters show up pretty late to this party. I’d chalk it up to another case of promo work trying to sell the film’s big names while alluding to popular films, instead of taking the time to understand what the film really is.
Subplots with Simon Pegg pining away for his lost love (played by Margot Robbie, because apparently one Little Box of Horror featuring them both was not enough!), Nick Frost and his hippie environmentalists, and Michael Sheen’s connection to the founder of the school all feel underdeveloped. Fortunately, the three comedians are talented enough to make you forgive most of this, and the film does other things well.
The film takes some time to weave all of its threads together. There’s quite a bit of set-up so we understand the school and its politics, the conflict between the community and the frackers, and the players involved. It’s not the most elegant affair, with the very first scene being exposition thinly veiled behind conversation. Other bits introduce lore that hardly matters to the final story.
When we finally get to the monsters, the film drops into gear. The young cast is able, and there’s enough madcap gore and silliness to mostly sell the premise. There are nice call backs to make most of the exposition feel useful. The monsters look good; I thought all of the early scenes with cop-out cut aways meant the film hadn’t the budget to make decent creatures, but we get plenty of them in the second half and they look pretty great. The kills are bloody and funny. I can’t say why, but it all worked for me.
Slaughterhouse Rulez is definitely a motley assortment. It’s hard to talk about any element of it without comparing it to other films. The cinematography is solid and beautiful in places, but there are a couple swipes from Edgar Wright’s films that feel obvious. It’s homages/stylistic borrowing is certainly obvious as well.
I don’t know why a film that boils down to “a guy who looks like the guy from Kingsman goes to Animal House Hogwarts run by the Cornetto Trilogy lite and fights the dogs from Ghostbusters because of short sighted UK energy policies” works. It just kinda does? I was entertained throughout, appreciated the acting and the camera work, and got to see enough campy bloodshed to punch my ticket. When it comes to a Little Box of Horrors film, that’s good enough for me.