A group of city kids get more than they bargained for on a school trip to the Highlands in this smart, silly, big-hearted horror-comedy.

You know that movie gag where a character walks out into the road mid-conversation and gets unexpectedly run over by a truck? Writer-director Ninian Doff’s Get Duked contains possibly the greatest example of that trope ever committed to film. It’d be worth a watch purely for that one moment, to be honest, but happily it’s also got lots more to offer.

Set in the Scottish Highlands, this comedy-horror sees a trio of teenage delinquents (plus a geek) hiking through some particularly hostile countryside in an effort to earn their Duke of Edinburgh certificates. Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) have been thrust into the programme by their despairing headmaster after a prank-gone-wrong set a school toilet alight, while Ian (Samuel Bottomley) is in it for the UCAS brownie points – but they all share a city kid’s ignorance of the dangers of rural life. (“How can you get lost in a place where there’s no corners?” asks Duncan, early on, before shredding their map to roll a joint.)

Even if they didn’t have to face anything more threatening than a rogue cow, it’s pretty clear these guys would struggle to survive in the wild. But a bigger threat arrives anyway, in the shape of a posh landowner with a gun (Eddie Izzard). Turns out the locals aren’t keen on teenagers tramping around the Highlands – so the hunt is on.

It’s obvious from the start that a lot of care has gone into the making of this film. Creative animations and frenetic editing enhance a smart script, packed with sharply observed dialogue. The characters might sound unpromising, but instead there’s a sense of warmth and humanity about them. Partly that’s the script, which lets four teenage boys banter back and forth without ever being cruel, and partly it’s the acting, which feels entirely natural and convincing. Whether you were a teacher’s pet or one of the kids who always sat in the back row of the school bus, you’ll recognise these kids, and the easy dynamics of their friendship makes them likeable even before they’ve really done anything to deserve it.

Which they do, ultimately, because this is a horror-comedy and not just a comedy. All of that set-up, all of that easy sympathy, turns out to be completely necessary when things get bloody. Get Duked is about learning to survive in a cruel world, where grown-ups can’t be trusted and intergenerational politics are volatile. That theme becomes apparent even before you get to the climatic bash-you-over-the-head-with-it scene, and while not everyone will appreciate the heavy-handedness of the film’s moral, it’s definitely a relevant and urgent-feeling conflict to mine horror from.

Extra relevant, too, is the sub-plot about the bumbling police officers trying to crack down on crime in the Highlands. The assumptions they make about the kinds of crimes that might be taking place, and who the likely culprits might be, end up having consequences for everyone – here, those assumptions are played for laughs, but in a way that makes it clear things could easily have been different.

Political rib-nudges aside, this is a slick, smart, absurdly funny indie horror that boasts a best-of-British cast and a massive heart. Plus that traffic gag really is a classic.

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