Get Duked! (2019/20)
Director: Ninian Doff
Screenwriter: Ninian Doff
Starring: Samuel Bottomley, Viraj Juneja, Lewis Gribben,
Rian Gordon, Eddie Izzard, James Cosmo
When taking a look at British Cinema over the past two to three decades, a few names have notably risen to prominence; the likes of Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright and Christopher Nolan leading the charge of Brits into Hollywood. In the past few years alone, the likes of Mark Jenkin, Alex Garland and Rungano Nyoni have each made their mark with their own terrific feature debuts, offering promise for the future of Brits behind the camera with the critical successes of Bait, Ex Machina and I Am Not A Witch respectively. Perhaps this year’s most eye catching debut is that of music video director Ninian Doff, whose self-penned Scottish horror-comedy Get Duked! gives his feature directorial career a more than promising start, one that solidifies the Edinburgh native as one to watch in the coming years.
Get Duked! follows three delinquents – the dim-witted Duncan (Lewis Gribben), the quiet but wise Dean (Rian Gordon) and wannabe rapper DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) – who are forced to complete the Duke of Edinburgh award or face expulsion from school. 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 home-schooled Ian (Samuel Bottomley) to ensure they get their award. As the boys get further into the trip, things get weirder and weirder, the highlands offering up an overly ambitious police force, hallucinogenic ‘rabbit shite’ and a killer duke.
Presenting a slew of unique and original characters, Get Duked! Shows off Doff’s talents for screenwriting through the characters he creates and the ways in which each contribute to the picture’s wider themes. From the aforementioned school boys, to local farmers, to a killer duke, each group of characters in Get Duked! comes with their own hilariously over the top comedic style and important contribution to the narrative. Here, the boys represent the working class and the harsh realities that face the future of the next generation, the local farmers (led by James Cosmo) represent those with an empathetic look at the youth, and the killer duke (portrayed perfectly as a posh and camp psychopath by Eddie Izzard) is the polar opposite: an ice cold upper class that looks down on the millennial generation and blames them for the issues facing the world today; in this case so much so that he would attempt to hunt them down and kill them. With the threat of the killer Duke imminent, the highlands are turned into the perfect horror landscape; rolling hills, mountains and a near total lack of civilisation, the setting feels claustrophobic in spite of its magnitude – there’s so much open space yet nowhere to run or hide – almost mimicking the use of space seen in Ridley Scott’s Alien. Get Duked! is both classist & generational warfare at its most literal. Whilst both are far from the most unique themes to tackle (with films as recent as Ready or Not and Knives Out having tackled class warfare in their own way), Doff manages to present them in a unique manner through his intertwining of both, and his uniquely British comedic stance – it’s like The Most Dangerous Game meets The Breakfast Club.
Making the film a horror-comedy was, in this way, a stroke of genius. Although over the top and extremely silly, the horror elements of Get Duked! take the lead characters’ fears for their generation’s future and show it for what it really is: horrifying. And it’s all presented in such a matter of fact way to really push the point home. The horror aspect of the film also lends its hand to the already pulsating energy of the movie, the game of cat and mouse between the boys and the duke continuously providing the film with perfect set ups for gags as well as a never ending rush of adrenaline that allows for rapid pacing that never lets up until the movie’s 86 minutes of runtime are over. The soundtrack (which features the likes of Run the Jewels and Vince Staples alongside some original music) is also used wonderfully alongside the movie’s editing in order to create this pacing and emphasise its energy, Doff editing alongside Ross Hallard to replicate unique visuals inspired by the director’s own music video career.
Ninian Doff helms his feature film debut with great confidence, coming across like he has been directing movies for years. Making excellent combinations out of things that often don’t go together very well, as well as juggling multiple tones and atmospheres without one ever tarnishing the other/s, Doff illustrates his ability to offer a unique aesthetic as well as a great eye for visual gags, all the while handling and managing his largely inexperienced cast with the maturity of a seasoned professional. In this resepect, Doff gets the very best performances from both on screen veterans and total amateurs whilst ensuring a prominent visual style is apparent throughout.
While Doff undoubtedly directed the cast terrifically well, the actors through whom he tells his story are each excellent in their own right, particularly the four leads who are all relatively new to feature films (with Get Duked! being a feature film debut in some cases). Similar to Doff, in spite of their lack of experience on such a grand stage, all four pull off excellent and believable performances. Whilst the first twenty minutes or so may feel somewhat stilted, the foursome soon find their rhythm and bring electric chemistry to the screen. Samuel Bottomley, as Ian, executes some great character work as the outcast among the delinquents, while Rian Gordon offers up a mature and understated performance as Dean, although it may not be as recognisable on a first watch considering his placement against some of the movie’s louder characters. It is, however, the duo of Lewis Gribben and Viraj Juneja who steal the show as Duncan and DJ Beatroot respectively. Juneja oozes charisma as DJ Beatroot and is given some of the film’s best moments in which to shine, while Gribben showcases some hilarious comedic chops and takes advantage of every second of his time in the spotlight.
Once the credits begin to roll, it is clear that this is a film about the next generation for the next generation, showcasing up and coming talent both in front of and behind the camera, as well as using its voice to create something fresh. Though it very well could have failed with it being the director’s first feature, the movie replicates its own protagonists as the ultimate underdog and flourishes under the pressure, using hilarious social satire, excellent pacing and wonderful direction from Doff to solidify it as one of 2020’s very best. With so much talent and intuition for film, it’s clear that Doff is about to embark on a remarkable career.