I love attending film festivals. The sense of community is great, getting to see big ticket stuff early always makes you feel a little special and it’s a kick to see an actor or director or writer you’ve admired for years in person talking about their film.
All that is truly great, but the biggest draw of film festivals for me is that sense of discovery you get when you stumble on a film you’ve never heard of before, have no expectation of and it blows you away. You don’t always get that at every single festival, but the possibility of a new favorite film falling in front of your eyeballs hangs over every screening.
That movie at this year’s SXSW was Boyz in the Wood, a ridiculously fun, surprisingly emotional comedy about an unlikely team of delinquent UK boys being hunted through the Scottish Highlands by Eddie Izzard.
Yes, you read that right. Think Attack the Block, but instead of big aliens with glowing teeth it’s a posh Eddie Izzard wearing a creepy mask chasing down these teens.
If you think it’s weird that some UK teens would be wandering the Scottish Highlands without adult supervision, apparently this is a real thing. The Duke of Edinburgh Award is earned by a group of kids using teamwork, a map and good ol’ common sense to hike from one point to another on their own. A little like how we have the Scouts here, I guess.
Our group of outcasts are Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) and Ian (Samuel Bottomley) and they are instantly likeable. Duncan and Dean might not be the sharpest tools in the shed, but they are funny as hell and their friendship has its own innocence to it. Their trio is rounded out by DJ Beatroot, an aspiring rapper who takes every opportunity to promote his brand, even out in the middle of nowhere.
Ian is the odd one out. He’s not part of the existing trio’s core group. They’re a little more… fun. And he’s a little more bookish. Ian takes this trek seriously and really wants to earn the award.
An early indicator that this movie was on the right track was when they don’t do the typical “bully the new kid” thing. There’s some friendly ribbing, but he’s accepted pretty quickly and is already on his way to becoming a real deal part of the group when Izzard shows up with his rifle.
I know it sounds dark, teenagers hunted through the Highlands, but even when the threat appears the movie never loses its lighter, fun tone. The reason for this is twofold. One, the kids band together to face this threat and that’s insanely fun to watch. Two, writer-director Ninian Doff never takes the tone too dark. He imbues the whole thing with the kind of manic energy you only get when inventive music video directors transition to their features.
Doff has a very Edgar Wright kind of vibe with his filmmaking style and his ability to get naturalistic performances from his leads. It’s not a direct one to one comparison, but Doff is definitely in the Edgar Wright ballpark.
It’s especially fun when he’s allowed to cut loose thanks to the introduction of some hallucinogenics. The trippy scenes are wild and a crazy amount of fun, as is the musical number that we get about two-thirds of the way into the movie. I told you this thing was crazy!
The whole movie is just a damn blast. You love the characters, all the location work keeps it visually interesting and the subtext of class and generational warfare gives the story enough depth so it’s not just disposable silliness.
Izzard gets to chew a whole lot of scenery, too, which can’t be understanded as a huge boon to the movie. He relishes every scene he has and you can tell he’s having a blast.
The rest of the cast is padded out with a bunch of recognizable faces. You’ll recognize some Game of Thrones cast members, like James Cosmo who plays a hip-hop loving farmer and Kate Dickie who is a straight-laced police Sergeant who up until this case has solely been focused on finding a bread thief.
Boyz in the Wood is the kind of movie you want to show to all your friends and watch them fall in love, too.
That might be a little hard to do in the near future as I don’t think it has US distribution just yet, but never fear. The movie’s great and I’m sure someone will scoop it up and put it out there for all to see. It won the Audience Award for Best Midnighter at SXSW this year and for good reason. This thing is a crowd-pleaser and I can’t wait for it to get the chance to become the cult hit it is destined to be.