During a successful festival run, which saw it win SXSW’s Audience Award – Midnights and the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival’s Grand Prix for Best Youth Film, this Highlands-set caper by first-time Scottish director Ninian Doff went under the name Boyz in the Wood. Doff renamed it Get Duked! because, having intended the title as a pun on Boyz n the Hood (1991), to imply a clash between American and Scottish cultures, he felt that with the passing of that film’s director John Singleton and the inroads of the Black Lives Matter movement the original title was not respectful.

Although Get Duked! only makes sense after the fact, the decision shows a political awareness that’s evident throughout this anarchic tale about a group of four teenage boys going for a Duke of Edinburgh Award. Three are troublemaking schoolfriends forced to do the award as an alternative to expulsion: working-class Dean (Rian Gordon) sees his future as packing fish for minimum wage; Duncan (Lewis Gribben) comes across as a dolt, but that’s a sign of his abstract thinking, revealed in the music videos he shoots for school pal DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja), who makes out he’s from a South London estate rather than an ivy-lined mansion. To their bemusement, they are joined by wholesome Ian (Samuel Bottomley), who wants to do everything by the book.

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Viraj Juneja as William / ‘DJ Beatroot’

For audiences outside Britain, the award is explained through a faux commercial filmed as if it is a found VHS with a wartime voiceover. It’s the first of many quirky interludes – some grate and others delight – that use a mixture of text on screen, psychedelic effects and music video-style split screens suggestive of director Doff’s grounding in commercial and pop production.

The use of styles from different eras is reflected in the film’s instability of tone and structure; but remarkably, this ends up a strength, making for a refreshing take on well-honed formulas. From an inauspicious and rather naff introduction to the boys, which is like an inferior British knock-off of 90s American gross-out comedies, but with a set-up lifted from Stand By Me (1986), Doff builds a surprising number of layers, giving nods along the way to films as diverse as The Wicker Man (1973), The Goonies (1985) and Pulp Fiction (1994).

Doff is more concerned with the external than with the protagonists’ internal emotional journey as they run into entitled and masked elderly hunters led by the Duke and the Duchess (Eddie Izzard and Georgie Glen, having a lot of fun), as well as hip-hop loving farmers and hapless police. Several sight-gags have delightful payoffs. There’s also an anti-boomer rant that feels zeitgeisty if – given the gun-toting action that comes before – slightly unearned. Still, by then Doff has managed to sell the audience his anything-goes philosophy.

Originally published: 11 September 2020