This week’s movie-news cycle has been dominated by the return of theatrical releases, with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet and X-Men offshoot The New Mutants finally making their way the big screen— but the health risk of going to see them remains significant. As much as it pains this lover of the theatrical experience, in the world as it is today, the decision to go to the movies is not one that can be made lightly. Luckily for those desperate to scratch that cinematic itch, quality content continues to be released online for us to watch from the comfort of our couches, including some films that might have otherwise slipped below our radar— like Get Duked!, an delightfully fun thriller-comedy that just dropped on Amazon Prime Video.
The feature debut of Scottish director Ninian Doff, Get Duked! (formerly Boyz in the Wood) follows four teenage boys on a hike through the Highlands that quickly devolves into a chaotic fight for their lives. Facing expulsion, troublemakers Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and the self-styled DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) are forced to complete the Duke of Edinburgh Award, an “outdoor adventure challenge set up in 1956 to take young delinquents out of the city and into the countryside.” Joined by Ian (Samuel Bottomley), a nice, homeschooled boy looking to pad his college application, they approach their four-day trek as a chance for unsupervised fun— until they find themselves attacked by a mysterious huntsman (Eddie Izzard).
A volatile adventure seeped in style, Get Duked! feels like a cross between Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz and Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, though those comparisons unfortunately highlight the key ingredients from those winning formulas that are missing here. Quick-cut editing makes for economic storytelling and contributes to a dynamic atmosphere, but it is less effective as a character-building tool without Wright’s mastery of the visual vocabulary, and though the four teens give good performances, the nascent star-power of someone like John Boyega is sorely lacking. Doff finds more consistent success when moving away from these two influences, displaying a talent for darkly comedic timing and a creative approach to hallucinogenic imagery that he should continue to develop further.
The film’s most valuable asset, which fully compensates for the occasional moment of stylistic ineffectiveness, is its unpredictable storytelling. Though its central premise proves straightforward, Doff treats this as permission to largely ignore the grand scheme of things, instead chronicling his characters’ endless capacity to make things worse for themselves through their own stupidity. As each turn in the narrative both surprises and satisfies, the viewer become more invested in its outcome, and Doff gets a lot of mileage out of the sheer enjoyability of going along for the ride. While it’s a shame it can’t be seen with a receptive, late-night audience, I’m thankful it got a VOD release— Get Duked! might just be the most promising Watch-Party material released during the pandemic.