Rich, straight white boys are the worst.
Okay, that may be a bit of a blanket statement. But that is the gist of what The Riot Club tries to tell as a story, in spite of the difficulties of creating a film that skewers the upper classes while also showing them in their natural environments. It’s hard to make the rich look disgusting in action when their environment is what’s usually pushed as aspirational. To the film’s credit, The Riot Club is, without a doubt, a vile film about vile people and their vile actions.
Adapted from the play Posh, The Riot Club is about a fictional version of Oxford’s very real Bullingdon Club. The play focuses on one of the club’s debauched meals, which is the central focus of the film as well. The film, though, opens up the narrative to span the course of a semester. After an introduction that explains the club’s seedy origins, the film introduces two freshmen, Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Claflin). The two men, who are forced to work together in classes and interact in social settings where it’s clear that Alistair doesn’t care for Miles, are separately selected for induction into the 10-member Riot Club.
The first act is a lot of setup, but things start clicking when the aforementioned club dinner, an ode to debauchery, begins in the second act. The act starts with the owner of a rural pub fixing up his dining room, in anticipation of what he assumes will be an outstanding group of upper class gentlemen. That the cupboard in the dining room is filled with ceramic bulls and china plates takes away any subtlety of what’s looming. As the evening rolls on, the depths of depravity quickly become known and challenged, with a sense of disgust becoming increasingly apparent. By the time Alistair is drunkenly ranting about how he is “sick to fucking death of poor people,” to the support of many of his fellow club members, it’s clear exactly how out of touch the members of the Riot Club are from most people, represented by the pub’s owner and his daughter, as well as other patrons of the establishment.
Where the film falters is in the aftermath of the party – namely, the conclusion for Alistair is more deplorable, but better set up than Miles’. Miles is pushed as the most innocent of the club, and the party and its aftermath are treated as a wake-up call to his earlier fascination with the club. It’s not improbable, but it feels tacked on to the film. Alistair’s conclusion, though, is more chilling. It’s clear that, in spite of whatever obstacles he might face after the party, he’ll ultimately be protected due to his social class. Given his barely concealed disgust for those who he considers beneath him, it’s a conclusion that is both revolting and entirely believable.