Chances are, even if you’re reading this, that the film Slaughterhouse Rulez is a bit of an enigma to you. Despite boasting a cast which includes Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz), Nick Frost (At World’s End), Michael Sheen (Tron: Legacy), and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), this horror-comedy creature feature barely made a dent on anyone’s radar and likely isn’t going to without word of mouth. The big names aren’t the leads and the tone is a mixed bag between posh teenage comedy and hardcore supernatural-leaning horror. Marketing Slaughterhouse must’ve been a bear, which is likely why it hit UK and Ireland theaters October 2018 and got a digital release stateside on May 17th, 2019. Now, as it’s about to release a DVD on June 18th, there’s a second chance for Slaughterhouse Rulez, serving as an unconventional option to help beat those theatrical summertime blues.
In a last-ditch effort to help her son Don (Finn Cole) turn his life around, Babs Wallace (Jo Hartley) signs him up in a recently opened spot at elite boarding school Slaughterhouse. There, he has a chance to get a higher education, make friends with influential families, and perhaps find a fresh start. Things seem to be off to a good start upon meeting his roommate in the Sparta House, Willoughby Blake (Asa Butterfield), and the lovely Clemsie Lawrence (Hermione Corfield) of Andromeda House, until he finds himself under the heel of militant house prefect Clegg (Tom Rhys Harries) for no other reason than existing. Finding his equilibrium is hard enough, but a whole new set of problems are created when an explosion at the nearby fracking site disturbs a nest of subterranean carnivorous creatures. Considering the school’s motto of Per Caedes Ad Astra (Through Bloodshed to the Stars), Don should’ve known education at Slaughterhouse might cost him his life.
As far as teenage horror-comedies go, Slaughterhouse balances out the tones nicely so that the existential threat of adolescence feels about as corporeal as the unearthed creatures hunting for human flesh. Doing that, however, requires the film to spend its bulk focused on developing the characters and their relationships. This may upset the applecart as audiences may want the film to hurry up on the bloodletting, yet, by delaying the action, the emotional payoffs feel earned and less manufactured. It also helps the jokes land more effectively because time is taken to develop a proper set-up. Considering that there are three listed writers – screenplay by director Crispian Mills (A Fantastic Fear of Everything) and first-time screenwriter Henry Fitzherbert with story by Mills, Fitzherbert, and Luke Passmore – you’d expect the film to feel clunky or unnecessarily extended. Instead, there’s a fantastic balance between the characters and establishing the lore of Slaughterhouse, making the transition into full-blown horror seem like a natural extension.
The biggest issue with Slaughterhouse Rulez is that it’s marketed as a Simon Pegg-Nick Frost-Michael Sheen film when it’s absolutely not. That’s a great way to get audiences to show up, but they’re going to leave feeling cheated. Are these three in the film? Yes. Are they in any way leading the film? Absolutely not. Slaughterhouse is very much a teen horror-comedy where the kids are the focus and the adults just get in the way. In this case, since it’s Sheen’s headmaster, known as The Bat, who brought the fracking company TerraFrack to campus, the adults are literally in the way. That’s not to suggest that Slaughterhouse doesn’t make good use of its more famous leads, it’s that the marketing is an absolute misdirection re: casting. Reportedly, Slaughterhouse Rulez is the first film produced by the Pegg-Frost production company Stolen Pictures, so perhaps the thinking is that these names will bring in audiences – which may happen – but there’s no way anyone will finish Slaughterhouse thinking of Pegg, Frost, Sheen, or even Robbie. Fun though each character might be, the film really belongs to Cole, Corfield, Butterfield, Kit Connor (Rocketman), and Isabella Laughland (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 &2). The real fun is had with this core group with Cole and Corfield getting some of the best moments of the film.
If you’re the type who enjoys some behind the scenes peeks at how a film is made, be advised that the DVD release is absolutely devoid of bonus content. The only thing included in this Sony Pictures release are trailers for other Sony films: Escape Room, Slenderman, The Possession of Hannah Grace, and Brightburn. Considering the cast at work, lore at play, and creatures roaming the grounds, it’s a shame that there’s nothing more to help extend the experience. Frankly, the film is so cheeky that some kind of gag reel or making of featurette would’ve felt like a cherry on top.
Slaughterhouse Rulez is a strangely delightful film that will be best served with a home audience. Despite the practical effects not being on the same level as other Pegg-Frost collaboration At World’s End, there being too much time spend with Pegg’s character’s romantic storyline, and perhaps more Sheen than the film requires narratively, the amount of midnight movie potential here is so substantial that it’s almost as if Sony didn’t, and still doesn’t, know what it has. The women are strong and powerful, the men are malleable, and there’s more than a few gory surprises, all of which make for a good time at the movies. That’s what it’s really all about when it comes down to it: good, cheeky fun. On this, Slaughterhouse Rulez delivers.
Available on digital beginning May 17th, 2019.
Available on DVD beginning June 18th, 2019.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.