From the abhorrent racism of Birth of a Nation in the early 20th century, to the anti-Semitism of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, there have been numerous prejudices shown on the big screen that other filmmakers have bent themselves over backwards to avoid repeating. Yet even if these racist views have thankfully gone away in modern cinema, there is an ongoing prejudice still lurking in the background, that no filmmaker is willing to address. I’m talking about the fact that every time a character in a film is called Alistair, that character is unambiguously a massive cunt. As I am forever stuck with the name (thanks mum and dad!), I urge any filmmakers reading this to repent for their sins and for once include a character called Alistair that is actually likeable. The Riot Club is a film where every character on screen is a massive cunt, yet the biggest cunt of the bunch happens to be the one called Alistair- stop these prejudices now, movie industry!
The Riot Club is based on a stage play called Posh, a satire of the Oxford university dining group The Bullingdon Club, of which both David Cameron and Boris Johnson were members. The titular Riot Club is a ten person strong dining group, but there are only eight members at the start of the new academic year; two affluent freshers are recruited, one a vaguely sympathetic guy called Miles (he has sex with someone who went to state school- he has no class prejudices!) played by Max Irons, the other an over-privileged Tory (is there any other kind?) called Alistair Ryle played by Hunger Games star Sam Claflin. They make their way for their inaugural dinner as members of a club whose members have famously gone into prominent positions in the government; Tom Hollander has a cameo as an MP and former member of the club that notes that every riot club member has a space in “the party” (unambiguously the Conservative party). The dinner itself doesn’t go well- you could say that I predicted a riot. It wasn’t very pretty, I tell thee.
In adapting the play for the big screen, playwright Laura Wade has seemed to forget that she’s writing a satire; all of the characters are poorly and broadly drawn rich-kid caricatures that would fit in perfectly to a comedy, yet are stuck in a film that thinks it’s a serious drama. For example, the fact the characters go on a bloodthirsty rampage due to the restaurant they are dining at only giving them nine birds in a ten bird roast should play as fine-tuned satire of upper-class privilege. In execution, it’s treated as serious drama; the fact the characters are so stereotypical and the situations completely unrealistic outside of a comedy film mean that I had a hard time believing anything that happened. As the film progresses it takes a bizarre and poorly executed detour into horror movie territory, offering up every Guardian reader’s worst nightmare of posh kids going wild. In a nutshell, it’s like if American Psycho had been re-written by Jack Whitehall’s character in Fresh Meat.
As on-board as I am with any criticism of the Tory party in pop culture, it is executed very badly here. It’s like people who post on the comment is free section of The Guardian website collaborated on writing a horror movie; an inverted version of Eden Lake where this time posh kids come and torture the working class. It should be noted that the reason I don’t like this film isn’t, as many others have complained, because none of the characters are likeable. A comparison could be made to The Wolf of Wall Street, a film where everybody on screen is utterly devoid of audience sympathy, yet manages to be entertaining due to a zinger-filled script and great performances (direction from Martin Scorsese didn’t hurt it either). The reason The Riot Club is a failure is due to how BORING it is. Scorsese can show me excess drug taking and orgies for three hours without me getting tired, yet in just over half that time the idea of excess portrayed in The Riot Club isn’t debauchery so much as de-bore-chery.
Take the initiation to the riot club for example- all it seemed to entail was downing a pint of bogies and pouring a bottle of red wine over yourself in public. None of this is executed in a comedic way to highlight how tragic it is, nor performed by any of the actors in any way that makes it interesting to watch; instead it’s directed (by One Day and An Education director Lone Scherfig) like the pinnacle of excess and not just a bunch of idiots arsing about. Danish director Lone Scherfig was probably not the best choice to direct this movie; I would rather watch his fellow Danish directors Lars Von Trier or Nicolas Winding Refn make a class-warfare satire. It would probably contain fully penetrative sex and gruelling torture scenes, but it would be more accurate in conveying to the audience just how unlikeable these characters are supposed to be, instead of making them seem like boring stereotypes and nothing more.
For a film about posh kids, it is overwhelming just how poor The Riot Club is. The comedy falls flat, the characters are poorly drawn and any hints of social commentary are rendered obsolete by the sheer ridiculousness of the narrative.