Scripted by director Crispian Mills and critic Henry Fitzherbert — whose names suggest they might well be familiar with private education — the public school-set Slaughterhouse Rulez offers a mixed bag of horror and comedy. By not settling on a particular tone, it remains unpredictable — but it’s never as funny or horrific as it might be, and has quite a few painfully flat stretches. Imagine random scenes from If…, St Trinian’s, Scooby-Doo and The Descent spliced together.
Slaughterhouse is a hellhole of posh privilege and random bullying, but also staffed by endearingly useless comedy types and rife with broad comedy wheezes, japes and sixth-form orgies. A serious sub-plot about teenage suicide meanders on amid the brand of tom-foolery mandatory for a film featuring Simon Pegg (star of Mills’ A Fantastic Fear Of Everything) and Nick Frost, who also score executive producer credits. Parvenu hero Donald ‘Ducky’ Wallace (Finn Cole) gets a rare place at the exclusive school because one has opened up thanks to the suicide of a bullied gay viscount who hanged himself with his school tie. Everyone but the dead boy’s best friend/room-mate Willoughby Blake (Asa Butterfield) would like to forget about the tragedy and Blake is either plotting revenge on sadistic head prefect Clegg (Tom Rhys Harries) or intending to do away with himself too.
The moments when the film connects emotionally are always clumsily followed by fart gags.
Meanwhile, in a lighter bit of social comment, Ducky transgresses unwritten rules by setting his cap at posh but nice princess Clemsie (Hermione Corfield) — and goes through the ancient business of mistaking her brother for a rival boyfriend. Pegg keeps popping in as a lovelorn house master — picking up on a running joke from Hot Fuzz, his character has been dumped by an out-of-his-league Australian guest star (there Cate Blanchett, here Margot Robbie) — and Frost loiters on an eco-protest site in the woods as a crusty drug-dealing old boy who has his own underdeveloped backstory about a missing brother and the secret of a labyrinth of tunnels under the school.
Michael Sheen and Butterfield play absurd upper-class caricatures as actual people — and the few moments when the film connects emotionally are down to them, though grace notes are always clumsily followed by fart gags. When it comes along, the monster action is surprisingly decent. With swooping drone shots of the lavish grounds and an ominous thread about flames burning green thanks to toxic gases unleashed by fracking, the film establishes a decent sense of menace — and the mythology about a school-founding, monster-fighting crusader who drove the beasts below grounds in the first place is nicely thought out. The ferocious, tenacious critters — squirmily repulsive, giant rat-catfish things — gnaw their way through a lot of characters, splashing the screen with a great deal of slapstick gore.