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D: Crispian Mills / 104m

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Finn Cole, Simon Pegg, Michael Sheen, Hermione Corfield, Nick Frost, Max Raphael, Kit Connor, Isabella Laughland, Tom Rhys Harries, Louis Strong, Margot Robbie

Slaughterhouse is a traditional English boarding school, with the sons and daughters of the rich and famous and the establishment primed to follow in their parents’ footsteps. When a rare placement comes the way of Don Wallace (Cole), a teenager from a single parent, working class background, he doesn’t really want to go, but does so to please his mother. Once there, he’s placed in a room with Willoughby Blake (Butterfield), whose disaffection with the school leads him to carry out small acts of subversion. But the cruelties and occasional moments of relief from life at Slaughterhouse soon take a back seat to the consequences of a nearby fracking operation that has opened up a sinkhole. On a weekend when most of the pupils have gone home, the headmaster (Sheen), one of the teachers (Pegg), Don and Willoughby, along with a number of other pupils, find themselves fighting off attacks by a “frack” of subterranean monsters that have emerged from the sinkhole. It’s time to put personal differences aside and keep each other alive…

You know that feeling when you’re around five to ten minutes into a movie and you just know that you’re going to be disappointed – because you are already? That’s the feeling viewers of the first feature from Stolen Picture, a production company set up by stars Pegg and Frost, will have once they’ve started watching this ill-advised and poorly assembled comedy horror. It’s not just that Slaughterhouse Rulez isn’t that funny, or very effective in terms of its horror elements, it doesn’t work because it’s another movie that tries waaaaay too hard to be funny, scary, and exciting all at the same time, while not being able to strike a proper balance between all three. The script – by Mills and Henry Fitzherbert – adopts a kitchen sink approach to the comedy, with physical pratfalls, visual gags, terrible puns or references (you can guess the line that inevitably accompanies the apparent demise of the headmaster’s dog, Mr Chips), and lots of frightened yelling, screaming and running in fear. Like much else in the movie, it’s these efforts, and the extended effort that goes into them, that make you wonder if everyone’s trying too hard because they know the material isn’t strong enough to support itself.

So, the comedy is broad and buffoon-like, with the adult characters suffering the most, from Pegg’s lovelorn teacher, to Frost’s stoner anti-fracking campaigner, to Sheen’s priggish headmaster. These are caricature performances that have been done to death in dozens of other British (so-called) comedies, and they’re still not funny even now. The horror relies on gory special effects, and rapid fire editing to hide the deficiencies of the animatronics and prosthetics, while the monsters themselves look like they wouldn’t even pass muster in a Doctor Who episode. It’s also a movie that  fails to exploit the issue of fracking and approaches it in a simplistic, “fracking is bad” fashion that makes the whole thing a plot contrivance instead of anything more rigorous. Potshots at boarding school life are numerous but offer nothing new, and the characters are as passively stereotypical as you’d expect. Tasked with breathing life into a movie that begins tired and winds up positively comatose by the end, the cast can only struggle to make their characters’ plight convincing; though they’re hampered by Mills’ pedestrian and uninspired direction. A disappointing movie, then, and one that would have benefited from taking more risks with the material than it does.

Rating: 4/10 – not the auspicious debut for their production company that Pegg and Frost would have wished for, Slaughterhouse Rulez lacks energy and purpose, and doesn’t even charm on a pizza-and-beer-on-a-Saturday-night basis; as it goes through the motions, the same will be true of viewers wondering how they can escape this mess with their sanity intact.