If anything I went into this film excited. I’ve not seen the play Posh, upon which the film is based, but knowing of the plot I was interested to see how it would translate onto the screen. The thing is though, cinema is a completely different beast to stage plays. Stage plays are grounded in dialogue and a closed space, whilst cinema is able to manipulate its audience by the images that it shows. Yet both have to grapple with something; they have to have something to say. All good art has to have something to say.
To me, The Riot Club failed to understand what it wanted to say.
The film revolves around ten Oxford undergraduates who are part of a Bullingdon Club under another name, who drink and get high and destroy everything in sight. In order for this kind of film to work, there has to be a sympathetic way into this world which the audience can get on board with. So it remains to be seen why the film started with a prologue about where the Riot Club got its name from, because frankly I don’t care about the name of the club. I didn’t go to see the film for that. After the prologue comes the protagonist, Miles, who is self admittedly posh and wants to get into the Riot Club because of plot contrivances, which is supposed to be our way in but I was never sympathetic to him in the first place.
So as I began to get really bored, we meet the other characters, three of whom I forget, but there is Finnick from The Hunger Games 2, Douglas Booth, the protagonist, the gay kid, the Greek kid, the president of the club and that awkward prospective boyfriend from An Education. The film isn’t big on names, which is one of my biggest problems with the film: the characters are so vastly drawn that they merge into each other. So when a character at the end of the film says “they all look the same”, I agreed.
Beyond that, the script isn’t terrible, but I have to say it is not how these people talk. These people do not exist. I grew up in Oxford and that kind of person does dress in corduroy jackets and trousers. The Bullingdon Club do take over bars, trash the place, buy the most expensive bottles of port and sing Nazi propaganda songs, but I am not the only person who knows this. I have known several people who grew up in that environment and I can safely say that they don’t talk the way that the screenwriter and playwright Laura Wade believe that they do, because they talk in code. They talk in a way that implies poor people, without ever actually saying poor people, because they are a lot smarter than Wade gives them credit for. Despite this Wade insists on crow-barring in the infamous ‘I really f******* hate poor people’ line and has the character yell it at the top of his lungs, as a rallying call for the rest to rip wallpaper down.
In pockets, the film has its moments. I thought that it could turn into something interesting, for example, when a character implies that a Greek couldn’t be President of the club because of his nationality. Even at the interview for Oxford when Finnick says “I just want to create something for myself and start from the ground up… in corporate finance” which plays into something larger that the film doesn’t want to talk about. The film ignores how difficult it can be to grow up in an environment that expects you to behave a specific way and go into the family business of wearing corduroy, hunting and cooperate finance. There is no escape from that and the film wants to paint these people as borderline monsters, but there’s a problem in that. If the film engages with its audience then weirdly it makes the audience agree with their behaviour, if you don’t you’ll be bored.
All in all, a combination of a lack of understanding of how to engage an audience and bland-as-muesli characters left me genuinely thinking, “They all look the same”. I wanted 12 Angry Men and I got 10 clichéd posh boys.
Sojourner McKenzie is starting her second year of an English and Film degree and spends most of her time ranting at no-one in particular about everything. Follow her on Twitter @runsojrun