Review: BOY KILLS WORLD, Truth (Mostly) In Advertising

Righteous rampages of revenge don’t get more righteous than the revenge-fueled rampage at the center of writer-director Moritz Mohr’s first, feature-length debut, Boy Kills World. Bloodily, ludicrously gratuitous, Mohr’s engrossing near-future dystopian flick has something for moviegoers with a well-developed, finely tuned taste for anime- and videogame-inspired action, old-school, sadomasochistic training montages, and cathartic spurts, bouts, and geysers of ultra-stylized hyper-violence aimed squarely at an exploitative, self-serving ruling class. In short, Boy Kills World is for everyone (or should be).

Boy Kills World centers on the “Boy” of the title, a nameless, thirty-something deaf-mute played with passionate intensity by a shredded Bill Skarsgård (Barbarian, Nine Days, It). Although festival audiences heard the Boy’s interior thoughts with Skarsgård’s own voice, the theatrical version substitutes Skarsgård’s voice with H. Jon Benjamin (Bob’s Burgers, Archer). Sardonic, sarcastic, and deeply unserious, the Boy’s inner voice engages in a running commentary only he and the audience hear. The script, however, often treats the Boy’s commentary as dialogue, interacting or responding with scene partners in a parody of everyday conversation. It’s to Mohr and his screenwriting team’s credit that the Boy’s inner voice perfectly aligns with the comically absurdist approach taken to an otherwise bleak, nihilistic future and the ruthless Van Der Koy family who control an unnamed city-state.

Like all revenge-centered plots, the Boy has a tragic backstory, specifically the execution of his mother and sister, Mina (Quinn Copeland), at the literal hands of Hilda Van Der Koy (Famke Janssen), the family’s most powerful member. Left for dead and rescued by the Shaman (Yayan Ruhian), a forest-dwelling survivor of the Van Der Koys’s wrath who doubles as a martial arts instructor and unforgiving surrogate father, the Boy grows up with a singular purpose as his life’s goal, revenge on the Van Der Koy family for all of the pain and anguish they’ve caused him.

Partly as a coping mechanism for his trauma, partly due to a lifetime of loneliness, the Boy brings Mina back from the dead, albeit only as an extension of his imagination, a conscientious foil who functions as a needed check on the central character’s ego-driven self-importance and over-reliance on revenge as a justification for his actions, no matter how questionable or ethically dubious. Later, the Boy inadvertently gains a couple of real-world allies, Basho (Andrew Koji, Warrior) and Bennie (Isaiah Mustafa), the last vestiges of the resistance the Van Der Koys and their allies have all but exterminated.

The Boy’s righteous rampage of revenge runs headfirst into the Van Der Koys’s annual “Culling,” a televised ritual whereby the city-state’s nominal enemies face off against a cereal company’s bloodthirsty mascots in a life-or-death match (mostly the latter) on a winter-themed set. Obviously inspired (“inspired” used generously here) by, among others, The Hunger Games, Battle Royale, and The Running Man, the Culling functions to pacify, entertain, and deter opposition to the Van Der Koys’s cartoonishly authoritarian rule, but once the Boy and his twelve-pack abs enter the arena with his fellow combatants, televised hell breaks loose.

Though it makes several obvious points about non-democratic rule, Boy Kills World doesn’t take itself too seriously, instead relying on Skarsgård’s charismatic presence, arch, borderline campy dialogue written by Tyler Burton Smith and Arend Remmers, and Mohr’s frantic, frenetic direction to keep audiences engaged across its nearly two-hour runtime. And engaged audiences will be (mostly), especially during the frequent — and always welcome — elaborate fight scenes orchestrated by ace stunt choreographer Dawid Szatarski. (Szatarski makes a memorable appearance as a nearly indestructible henchman). The action scenes usually involve an outnumbered, if not outmatched, Boy versus the Van Der Koys’s hench-thugs, among them June27 (Jessica Rothe), the Van Der Koys’s chief enforcer.

Boy Kills World opens theatrically on Friday, April 26th, via Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.

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