Edinburgh Jamie Neish

Edinburgh 2019: Boyz in the Wood review

★★★☆☆

The curtain rose on the 73rd Edinburgh International Film Festival last week with music director Ninian Doff’s feature debut Boyz in the Wood. Set in the Scottish Highlands, this inspired mashup of comedy, thriller and social satire is an unexpected delight that really comes alive in its second half.

When a trio of tearaway teens – Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben) and DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) – find themselves on the verge of expulsion when a moronic experiment inadvertently destroys a toilet block at their school, they wind up in the remote wilderness with Ian (Samuel Bottomley), a fellow student entirely their opposite.

The task is to obtain their Duke of Edinburgh award by, amongst other things, working as a team – something only Ian seems intent on mastering (he has a lamented tick-off sheet that becomes a running gag). It’s not long, however, until the terrain – and its mask-wearing, rifle-wielding occupants – spin a simple scheme on its head. It’s a satisfying premise that comes alive in its second half once the usual foundations have been laid and the hijinks spiral out of control. Doff, who acts as both writer and director, establishes an offbeat, ridiculous tone from the start that solidifies itself with visual humour and sharp dialogue that pay off in riches further down the line.

When not centred on the teens, the film pivots to a local constabulary, where police officers Hamish (Kevin Guthrie) and Morag (Kate Dickie) ditch their hunt for the elusive bread thief in order to hunt down a supposed hooded gang of paedophiles. It’s the kind of subplot that warrants a film all too itself (who doesn’t want to unmask the real bread thief?), and is perhaps even more in line with the ridiculous tone Doff is aiming for than the main plot itself. The two strands do sync up at the end, though how it comes about is almost entirely predictable. It’s also disappointing how little the political edge that underlies the film is brought to the fore. It would have been interesting to see Doff comment more on elitism and the state of the world for the younger generation.

The four young leads, all relative newcomers, deploy themselves well; their natural chemistry undeniable. Individually, the characters they play are better in small doses, particularly DJ Beatroot, whose hip hop schtick tires quickly. Dickie and Guthrie steal the limelight whenever they pop up, and there are neat turns from Eddie Izzard, James Cosmo and Alice Lowe. Doff, then, has fashioned a rather entertaining, if lightweight comedy that taps into a wide range of other areas (some admittedly better than others). It may take a while to warm up, and take a number of detours along the way, but the incentive visuals (the acid trip scenes are cleverly done on such a small budget) and committed cast, it somehow works. Doff, with some more experience under his belt, is destined for big things.

The full EIFF programme can be viewed at edfilmfest.org.uk.

Jamie Neish | @JamieNeish