From director Lone Scherfig, The Riot Club is a sickening, rotten portrayal of an Oxford club that provokes wild, fierce reactions with its preposterousness. It is tame in its structure but rigorous in its content, and lifts Scherfig up from the vacant fluidity of One Day, leading her towards her best piece of work, An Education.
Based on the play Posh, telling the story of a group of Oxford students who create an elite club, The Riot Club is a film that explores upper class debauchery with such a fearless approach that at points I was quite astounded that Scherfig was behind its doing. From the creator of some mellow pieces of work, the cruel and corrupt The Riot Club showcases another dimension to Scherfig that had not yet been used to the full in her filmography.
The film’s content is utterly vile: some scenes are shockingly sickening and the feelings of cold hatred are overwhelming. But Scherfig’s firm filmic structure is still extremely evident in the backdrop to the venal substance and causes a morphing of the film that isn’t organic but overly conventional in structure. The main body of the film is a tight, claustrophobic, sweaty, ghastly class depiction, with both the beginning and the end becoming disjointed exposition and slightly neat, respectively.
Eliminating structure, Scherfig’s exploration of the upper crust of the upper class is so daringly told that it becomes a revolting social class battle with prejudicial slur. At times, the screenplay is skilful in its approach but at other times it becomes so overt and hyperbolic that The Riot Club members become parodic caricatures, losing any authenticity, becoming a joke, which ultimately detriments the fearless stripping back that Scherfig attempts to do and places the exposed and the realism in a conflictingly comedic setting.
The Riot Club is uncomfortable, vile and seductive with performances (particularly by Sam Claflin) that overflow with sanctimoniousness. But Scherfig doesn’t quite manage to follow her powerful concept throughout the whole text, leaving the audience sometimes confused – at points I laughed at its ridiculousness and at other moments, I heaved at its sickening, raw nature.
The Riot Club (2014), directed by Lone Scherfig, is distributed by Universal Pictures International, Certificate 15. Watch the trailer below.