Boyz in the Wood is directed by Edinburgh local, Ninian Doff (who was actually involved with the festival in his younger years through a scheme known as SKAMM).
Doff has already made a name for himself in the music video world, creating videos for well-known artists such as Run The Jewels, The Chemical Brothers and Migos (who Doff described as “the highest people I have ever met.”). After winning multiple awards over the years for his work on music videos, he finally made the jump to a feature film and what a first feature it was.
Boyz in the Wood follows three delinquents: the dim-witted Duncan (portrayed hilariously by Lewis Gribben), the often quiet, but full of wisdom, Dean (played wonderfully by Rian Gordon) and lastly, wannabe rapper DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja who oozes charisma and completely steals the show). All of which are forced to complete the Duke of Edinburgh award or face expulsion.
Choosing the former over the latter, the lads set off on an orienteering trip around the Scottish Highlands and team up with the clean-cut Ian (Samuel Bottomley, who shows some terrific acting chops, especially in his character’s development and transformation throughout the film). As the boys get further into the trip, things get weirder and weirder, such as a killer Duke, hallucinogenic ‘rabbit shite’ and an overly ambitious Highland police force.
The film opens with a retro advert for the Duke of Edinburgh Award and the introduction of the characters, shown through freeze frames and a wild frenzy of information thrown on screen including school reports and teacher monologues about each pupil. Doff introduces the style to the audience, as well as its humour early on – both contribute to its success.
The gang set off on their trip and it’s clear from the get-go that Ian is the only one who wants to complete this – he continually keeps an eye on his checklist and encourages others to work as a team. While this is happening, someone is lurking in the background, following them.
Once the stalker is unveiled as the Duke of Edinburgh (hilariously portrayed by Eddie Izzard), he attempts to attack the boys and this is when Boys in the Wood goes into full swing, letting the four leads truly shine. Each actor displays fantastic chemistry, coming across as natural, despite being rather young.
Doff uses setting in the same way that Ridley Scott uses space in Alien. The rolling hills and mountains, as well as lack of civilization, create the perfect horror landscape. It almost feels claustrophobic in spite of its magnitude. All of which makes for some terrific cinematography throughout.
Boyz In The Wood is a wonderfully weird film. Watching it like watching a master at work. Despite this being his first feature effort, Doff comes across like a veteran, somehow able to take things that really shouldn’t go together but making it work. He’s able to go from one atmosphere to the other and back again, without tarnishing the effect of either. He takes a not-so-unique story and gives it the most unique makeover he can, creating a fantastic mashup of music (the film boasts a great soundtrack), humour, and just… weirdness.
With so much talent and such intuition for film, it’s clear that Doff Boyz in the Wood will go places. I think it’s one of the best films of the year and definitely one of the greatest Scottish films of all time.