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Gruesomely Amusing – Boy Kills World (Film Review)

4 min read
Bill Skarsgård Boy Kills World Signature Entertainment

Image: © Signature Entertainment

For all of the valiant attempts that Boy Kills World makes to mark itself as a visually distinctive feast of gore and kicking ass, It still leans heavily on familiar ingredients. In essence, if you ever wondered what would happen if you fused The Hunger Games (2012) with The Running Man (1987), with a dash of classic revenge thriller, Moritz Mohr’s directorial debut is pretty much what it would look like. And much like its titular character, still finding his feet after being chiselled and welded into a weapon of bare-fisted destruction, Mohr is still clearly finding his footing. Boy Kills World is tonally muddled and cursed with weak characters, but turns on the style when it matters and lets a vengeful Bill Skarsgård off the leash.

In a dystopian city ruled by the violent Van Der Koy family, Boy (Skarsgård) is rescued from being executed by a mysterious shaman (The Raid’s Yayan Ruhian). Fed cocktails of drugs and trained in the ways of advanced combat, Boy is directed towards one end goal; to kill Hilda Van Der Koy (Famke Janssen), the tyrannical matriarch responsible for his family’s demise and for Boy’s state of deafness and muteness. Complicating matters is that Boy is intermittently plagued by a hallucination of his dead sister, who interferes with his plans, and that he ends up becoming involved in a much further-reaching rebellion against the totalitarian state.

As the eye-catching trailer revealed beforehand, Boy Kills World is visually lush with a shallow techno-capitalist style. It emphasises how fickle the Van Der Koy’s family’s consumerist attempts to pass as benevolent really are. But it also lends itself to a host of visual tricks and treats. Text lights up on the front of helmets for no other reason than it looks good. Cereal box pirates and billy goats impale citizens on live TV (in an annual event known as The Culling). And most importantly of all, the fight scenes possess a joyous intensity despite the often bizarre settings that surround them. Mohr finds some inventive, gruesomely amusing ways to inflict pain (a short but inspired kitchen brawl involves the violent wielding of a cheesegrater) and most of the action transitions are goregously edited. Most of the fights take place in relatively small spaces, adding a claustrophobic quality that makes them all feel that much more immersive.

This would be phenomenal if Mohr was attempting to make a mostly sincere, relentless action thriller akin to the John Wick films. But the script attempts to throw comedy in for good measure, particularly in the first hour. It lands with varying degrees of success—a recurring lip-reading gag in particular stands out as the comedic highlight—but more importantly never really complements the hardcore action. By the time the epic finale rolls around, you will forget that there was ever anything supposedly funny going on. Mohr doesn’t quite crack how to balance the grieving revenge drama tone with the often absurd comedy that gets thrown into the pot. This isn’t helped by a script unwilling to dive into any kind of meaningful characterisation, aside from a bunch of archetypes. For somebody to be truly funny, you need to give a jot about who they are. 

Skarsgård, however, is trememdous. Warming up for his upcoming leading turns in the remake of The Crow and Robert Eggers’ Nosferatu, the Swedish actor is emerging as the kind of star who can carry a film throughout its trials and tribulations. It is a muscular performance, but also one where the childlike innocence of his eyes is never lost behind the splatterings of blood and endless bruises. His partnership with H. Jon Benjamin, who provides Boy’s dramatic and over-the-top internal monologue, results in one of the most distinctive action heroes of recent years despite him never uttering a word. He is the standout, rivalled perhaps by a fun but underused Sharlto Copley and Ruhian yet again getting to demonstrate what he is capable of. 

A mixed bag for sure, Boy Kills World isn’t the refined action experience that audiences have been treated to in recent years. But Mohr has done enough to mark him out as a director to watch, and Skarsgård is cementing his reputation as one of Hollywood’s key leading men of the moment. It might not have everything you would want, but only the stoniest-faced of maniacal autocrats will manage to not crack a smile by the time the red mist dissipates.

Boy Kills World is available to rent on digital platforms now.