Simon Pegg and Nick Frost collectively form one of the most recognizable duos in British comedy, and there’s a good reason for that. They have worked extraordinarily well together since the days of the Edgar Wright sitcom Spaced before transitioning to big screen offerings. The duo’s best collaborations have unequivocally found the sweet spot between uproarious humor, biting parody, and indelible heart.
There are distinct stylistic differences between the schools of comedy filmmaking that Pegg and Frost have dabbled in together. For instance, Wright’s Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy – comprising Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End – and Greg Mottola’s Paul look and feel completely different. Nevertheless, Pegg and Frost act as the onscreen throughline that gives those projects distinguishing personalities.
It’s been half a decade since Pegg and Frost last appeared in a live-action film together, but Slaughterhouse Rulez is ready to change that. Notably the first title out of the gate from the pair’s production company, Stolen Picture, the movie will be co-written and directed by past Pegg and Frost colleague Crispian Mills (A Fantastic Fear of Everything) usher a new generation into the offbeat brand of horror-comedy that shot the duo to widespread stardom in the first place.
Slaughterhouse Rulez is about a sinkhole that appears at the fracking site near the grounds of a posh British boarding school. Students and teachers face off with monstrous beings from another dimension when literally all hell breaks loose.
Identifying signature themes and character gags that have become synonymous with Pegg and Frost’s brand isn’t difficult, even though I do have to note that the freshly released trailer for Slaughterhouse Rulez does keep the pair apart.
My own first impression of Slaughterhouse Rulez – before hitting that play button – was to judge its needlessly edgy movie title with a bit of distaste. Touché, as everything in the trailer demonstrates that simply calling the movie “Slaughterhouse Rules” would have just been off-brand. Slaughterhouse Rulez already looks like an outrageous extravaganza with elements of sci-fi, action, and satire all rolled into one.
We’re immediately situated at a sprawling private institution surrounded by woodlands. Headmaster Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex) specifically asks Pegg, seemingly a newly appointed teacher, whether he’s aware of any “no-go areas” on the grounds.
The trailer then wastes no time referencing cultural touchstones like Harry Potter as we get a glimpse of the cultural hierarchies within the walls of this vastly stereotypical boarding school. The robes look comically familiar, and there’s even a Draco Malfoy lookalike to consider for a split second. Young stars Asa Butterfield (Hugo) and Finn Cole (Peaky Blinders) slowly get to know one another, misfits finding solace in a budding friendship.
We witness the actual sinkhole that is touted as the “gateway [that] leads straight down to hell.” Thanks for that, Frost. He looks more disheveled than anyone else in the trailer, but his appearance in the woods likely connects him to the nefarious fracking company involved.
In a bid at self-reference, Frost’s character suddenly asks if the boys would like to buy some drugs, and the footage appropriately proceeds to get more madcap from here. The trailer can’t stop bombarding us with new information, unveiling creatures and introducing explosions into the mix. It’s frankly a lot to take in, and this just makes me press replay.
Laying bare so many details about a film’s plot in one trailer doesn’t usually work. However, Slaughterhouse Rulez appears just zany enough to leave questions unanswered regardless of how much we’ve learned from the footage so far. The audience has now seen the monsters and (seemingly) know the gamut, but the film’s metaphorical underpinnings ensure that the story could still be fulfilling.
Pegg briefly addressed Slaughterhouse Rulez in an interview with ABC’s Digital Trends in May 2018, and notably mentioned the importance of allegory in the film. He stated:
“It’s going to be really fun. It’s a sort of a horror comedy. It felt like the right thing for Nick and I to have as our first collaboration with Stolen Picture. It’s about a private school in the UK which sells off parts of its land to a fracking company, and the fracking company then unleashes a subterranean monster that terrorizes the school. It’s a big metaphor for the UK privatizing things, and it’s mixed up with some ridiculous, sloppy horror. So it’s right up our street.”
Talk about a throwback to the Cornetto days. As Slaughterhouse Rulez attempts to combat grave societal trends, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End have each grappled with darker themes of their own that ground their comedy in something unsettling and confronting.
The Cornetto movies tackle notions of individuality and lack thereof to varying degrees. The stakes are raised on a more personal level when you come to relate to and adore the protagonists played by Pegg and Frost. Their chemistry as real-life best friends blossoms onscreen when dealing with all manner of apocalyptic circumstances, which makes for a delightful viewing experience. According to Wright, the Cornetto films are “Trojan horses” in this manner: “genre films that have a relationship comedy smuggled inside a zombie movie, a cop movie, and a sci-fi movie.”
Without the endlessly self-referential smarts of Wright’s filmmaking technique, nor any kind of noticeable key relationship between Pegg and Frost, I’m left wondering whether Slaughterhouse Rulez would feel more pedestrian in its approach to symbolism. However, it’s also worth considering that the film could stand on its own merits.
Style isn’t completely missing in Slaughterhouse Rulez. Now, a lot of it may be clever trailer editing but I really hope the same exhilarating flavor lives on in the film’s final cut. There is a slickness to the images that’s reminiscent of something like Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman series. The trailer’s aerial establishing shots are exceptional, and the internal rhythm within each frame creates for a seamlessly dynamic impression of the movie. The shot of Pegg dramatically turning towards the camera while having an ice-cream and watching football (a potential Cornetto reference, perhaps?) perfectly sums up the ridiculous state of affairs in Slaughterhouse Rulez.
One aspect I’d still be wary about in Slaughterhouse Rulez is that missing heartfelt relationship. Thankfully, the trailer saves itself by giving most characters a smattering of lines to say. Yet, the footage drives the point of a camaraderie home, and a believable group effort could be all we need to stay invested in the project as a whole.
The Cornetto trilogy is notoriously hard to beat, but I’d be totally fine if Slaughterhouse Rulez ends up being some kind of distant cousin. Having Pegg and Frost back together again is enough reason to celebrate. Slaughterhouse Rulez comes out on Halloween in the UK. Hopefully, the US release date won’t be far behind.