'Boyz In The Wood': Filmmaker Ninian Doff Crafts A Love Letter To The Bonkers Midnight Movie Genre [SXSW Review]

In this age of streaming and homogenous theater chains, it’s hard to say if teenagers still know the term Midnight Movie. But that’s a shame, because it essentially refers to movies made for a teenage sensibility and the ingredients haven’t changed much since these movies were actually shown late at night – start with a healthy dose of sneering at authority, throw in some wild music and visual styles to scare off the old fogies, sprinkle in some drugs and violence (the weirder the better), add a light garnish of political outrage and voilà, a Midnight Movie, and “Boyz in the Wood” is a perfect example of this subgenre of film. The feature debut from music video director Ninian Doff, “Boyz in the Wood” is a jolt of irreverent fun that wants you to laugh at the stupid and depraved behavior of teenage boys but also to know that at the end of the day, the kids will be all right.

Four teenage boys are brought to the Scottish Highlands, given a map, and abandoned as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, a wilderness challenge that may also be a teacher’s ruse to get rid of their most troublesome students. There are the three friends Dean (Rian Gordon), a sullen arsonist, Duncan (Lewis Gribben), the kind of kid who eats things on dares, DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja), who’s come hiking completely clad in white and proceeds to slap his DJ stickers on every tractor he sees, and then a new acquaintance, Ian (Samuel Bottomley), an earnest homeschooled boy who came to fill his résumé. Despite Ian’s best efforts at orienteering, the boys are not on their own for long before they’ve destroyed the map, started smoking (literal) explosive hash, and most troublingly, discovered they’re being hunted for sport.

Two tweed-clad maniacs in masks (Eddie Izzard, Georgie Glen) are stalking the boys while spouting bromides about culling the herd to preserve British breeding. To make it out of the highlands alive, the boys must rely on their own ingenuity and learn the wilderness skills they scoffed at earlier, as well as receive help from hallucinogenic rabbit poops and some unlikely new fans of DJ Beatroot’s music. Meanwhile, the local police are also trailing the boys, after finding their trash and concluding they’re an urban street gang of terrorist pedophiles.

It isn’t surprising to anyone who’s seen Ninian Doff’s music video work that “Boyz in the Wood” looks great and has a great soundtrack bursting with British hip-hop. However, unlike most other directors from that field, Doff has clear talent as a writer, too. Underneath the jokes and adolescent banter is a tightly constructed script, filled with running jokes and surprises that all pay off in a bonkers finale.

Even though the story moves at a breakneck pace and never stops making enjoyably stupid jokes, by the end Doff has produced a surprising amount of pathos for the boys as symbols of a disparaged youth. At the film’s conclusion, the tweed-clad protectors of Old Britain tell the boys they’ve literally tried to kill, “That’s the problem with your generation, always the victims!” “Boyz in the Wood” is a hilarious retort to the critics of youth and a rousing late night movie for a new generation. [A]

Click here for more of our coverage from SXSW 2019.