When Bill Skarsgård Gets Ripped and Kills It in Your Wild Ode to Action Cinema: Moritz Mohr Talks 'Boy Kills World'

From its mix of genres and tones to the voice of H Jon Benjamin, Moritz Mohr's debut feature is filled with things he loves.
Sarah Ward
Published on May 09, 2024

A chat with Moritz Mohr about Boy Kills World is a chat about the things that he loves. His DVD copy of Battle Royale comes up, and his DVD and Blu-Ray collection in general. So does spending "months and months and months" listening to the soundtrack to Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, and the fact that the iconic South Korean revenge thriller is now being turned into a TV series. Boy Kills World, the German filmmaker's first feature, is a movie eagerly and overtly made from the things that Mohr adores. "That's a very correct assessment of the situation," he tells Concrete Playground.

"We — me and all my collaborators, the writers — we really put into that movie everything that we love. So it should feel like that because that's basically what it is," he continues. Accordingly, yes, Mohr and the Boy Kills World team are fond of vengeance stories, martial arts films and fight-to-the-death flicks. And, they've worked that affection into a wild ode to action cinema starring Bill Skarsgård (John Wick: Chapter 4), featuring the voice of H Jon Benjamin (Bob's Burgers) and produced by Evil Dead filmmaker Sam Raimi (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness).

The involvement of each of those key figures also stems from enthusiasm. Skarsgård was the first actor cast, for a role that makes him a silent film star — Boy, the movie's protagonist, is an orphan who has spent his childhood training for a quest for retribution, and is also deaf and mute — and trades on his physicality as a form of expression as a result. It required him to get ripped, too. "I was like 'are you up for that? Are you up for the training and all?'. And he promised me he would be up for it," explains Mohr. Was he ever; the proof is in the movie.

Boy doesn't speak, a choice that plays with the usual strong and silent action-hero archetype; however, viewers are still clued into his every thought and feeling thanks to Benjamin. He gives the flick Boy's inner monologue, and his involvement came about exactly as you'd expect. "I love H Jon. I love his comedy. I love Archer. I love Bob's Burgers. So that's the reason — that's the only reason, because I love him and I thought he would be a great fit," says Mohr.

As for Raimi, getting him onboard — and getting compliments from him at Mohr's very-first meeting with him — had Boy Kills World's helmer thinking "oh my god, I can die now", he tells us. It's an inspirational result for anyone who has ever dreamed with their friends of making a movie, and specifically making the kind of movie you'd love to see yourself. Indeed, that's exactly the starting point for the film that premiered at 2023's Toronto International Film Festival, has scored a spinoff video game and is also seeing that button-mashing title get an animated series. 

Julian Leshay

Story-wise, Boy Kills World plunges into a dystopian world that brings The Hunger Games to mind, complete with death as a televised spectacle. When Boy is a boy (Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti, Goodnight Mommy), he loses family at the hands of a despot (Famke Janssen, Locked In), then commits himself to revenge. Cue carnage once he's an adult, as brought to the screen with energetic glee — and with a cast that also includes Yayan Ruhian (The RaidThe Raid 2) as the Shaman who teaches Boy his ferocious fighting skills, plus Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey: A New Era), Sharlto Copley (Monkey Man), Jessica Rothe (the Happy Death Day franchise) and Andrew Koji (Warrior).

How did Boy Kills World evolve from an idea bandied about in Berlin to bouncing through cinemas? What goes into making the movie a balancing act of action and comedy, and also genres and styles? With Mohr, we also discussed the above, adding complexity to vengeance tales, casting Skarsgård, directing a wordless performance and ensuring that the film goes on a helluva ride.


On How Boy Kills World Went From Idea and Proof-of-Concept Short to Getting Sam Raimi Producing and Hitting the Screen

"In 2016, there were five people in Berlin: producer, writer, director, fight choreographer and action guy. And we're like 'we really want to make something that we would watch ourselves', because we're all working in advertising and TV, and there's not much of an action scene in in Germany — there's basically no action movies, never have been.

And we were like 'we want to do something and we want to feature the unique talent of our brilliant action designer Dawid Szatarski [an alum of Black Widow and Kingsman: The Golden Circle]. And that's why we shot this proof-of-concept trailer, which I think we shot for like five days.

It took us a year to wrap it up. And at one point, I got a call from a friend who went to the AFM, the American Film Market in LA. He's like 'hey Moritz, do you want to come along? I'm kind of lonely and I have a couch'. So I was like 'yeah, sure, I'll finish the trailer, wrap it up, stop tinkering with it and just go over there and give it a shot, and see what happens'.

When I arrived there I had like four meetings, and the first meeting was like 'this is a great trailer, cool — do you have a script?'. I was like 'no, I don't have a script yet'. So like 'oh sorry, then we can't help you'. And I thought that's how it would stay, basically because I knew everybody told me 'if you want to sell something, you need a script'. Yeah, well, I don't have one.

We had a treatment, a five-pager or something. But through very nice people who kept connecting me to other people, about four days later I was in contact with Sam Raimi. And I met him. He's the nicest guy ever. We had this beautiful moment that I will probably remember forever: it was the first meeting and I was like 'I'm such a huge fan of yours' — he's just like 'and I'm a big fan of yours Moritz'.

And I was like 'oh my god, I can die now. This is great'. So after that meeting, it's basically sort of a handshake agreement, we're going to do this together.

Also Stuart Manashil [Irma Vep, Malcolm & Marie] and Roy Lee [Late Night with the Devil, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire]. Roy Lee, he's a great producer in his own right, he did the IT movies and Lego and The Ring remakes and all that.

Then we found a studio, basically, developing a script — and then it just took us five little years and lots of lots of detours. When we finally found our final partners Nthibah Pictures in South Africa and Hammerstone studios, that were ready to put all the money we needed in the film and really make the movie as it was intended to be made — and really believed in us — that's when we started shooting in Cape Town three years ago."


On the Film's Balancing Act in Mashing Up Genres and Styles, and Getting the Mix of Action and Comedy Right

"That's what I was worried about the entire time — it was like 'alright, we've got the comedy, but we've also got the drama. And we've got the action, and putting that in in the right amount'.

Can we cut this joke? Is the movie still funny enough? Can we linger on that dramatic scene a little longer, or is it dragging everything down? Or is it too much action? Are the action scenes too long?

Obviously lots of that stuff is very subjective, but it's definitely something you're worried about the entire time."


On Adding Complexity to Boy Kills World's Revenge Tale

"I really think there's so many revenge movies out there that I just didn't want to add something that is exactly like anything else. And as a thinking human being, usually in a revenge movie you go like 'isn't that enough revenge now? You killed like 50 people. You don't think this is enough now for whatever happened to you?'.

Because it is never black and white, right? And it shouldn't be. One of my favourite directors is Park Chan-wook and his revenge trilogy — and with every one of the three movies, he put a different spin on revenge. And that definitely heavily inspired me because it just shouldn't be that easy.

If you add something to the great, great genre of revenge movies, I feel like you should these days put a slight twist to it."


On Boy Being a Literally Silent Hero — and Unpacking the Trope in the Process

"The whole voiceover concept was there pretty much from the start. It was like 'hey, let's combine this young hero with an old narrator voice', that split. It's definitely a disconnect for the audience that the audience has to get used to, but it also makes it special.

That's what was, in the beginning, when pitching the project and developing it — besides everything else, besides the story and all — it was one of the things that was like 'oh yeah, that's what makes the whole thing special, that's what sets it apart'.

That was very, very deliberate. I read a comment once that was like 'oh, they probably added the voiceover after the fact when they realised that the mute hero doesn't work'. I was really hurt at that moment. I was like 'oh, no, I hope people don't think that'."


On Casting Bill Skarsgard as Boy

"Bill's a terrific actor, obviously. He was basically the first person we cast, and the only caveat besides him being a great actor and obviously having a super-expressive face that felt very right for role, was that he had never done any action — or not as a lead in an action movie.

For a moment I was like 'ohh, can he do that?'. And in my first call, I asked him about it. I was like 'are you up for that? Are you up for the training and all?'. And he promised me he would be up for it. And I was like 'alright, you're good enough for me'.

And he really delivered on his promise. He started training in Stockholm. We sent somebody over to go through the basics, the punching and kicking, and then just the motions, and he really put in the work. Like, he got in shape. He got ripped. He trained.

The action scenes are basically dance routines to a degree, where you have to remember the movements and the punches and all. So that just takes time, and he was fully, fully committed to this— and spent hours and hours and days and weeks in the gym with our guys creating these scenes."


On the Direction That You Give Someone When Their Performance Is Purely Expressive with No Dialogue

"It is absolutely, right. So this may sound very stupid, but it was literally – because, giving direction, usually you talk to the actors and then they give you their performance. And then most of the time, if you have good actors, you just go 'oh yeah, can you go a little bigger there in the end? Or take a break?' Just like small things.

When I started directing people back in the day, I just talked at them, like 'oh, you need to do this, this and this' — 15 years ago, film school days, basically. But now I'm working with all these great actors, and you really work with what they give you. And you watching the first take is usually magic, or the rehearsal — when you're like 'ohhh, this is amazing. I could never have dreamed to get something like this. That's the perfect start to these scenes'.

With Bill in particular, since there's no lines, it was usually very simple directions. We're basically just 'oh yeah, do a little more here, be a bit more expressive, be more intense — or less intense'. And that's the way to go, because I did not have a lot of work with Bill in that regard; he delivered on that."


On Making the Film a Wild Ride Where It Feels as If Anything Could Happen

"Balancing all that, that's the big task, and we had created a canvas for ourselves where we could do some crazy stuff — and since we created our own world, nobody told us how things should be, so we had all the freedom in that regard.

There are some major tonal shifts in the movie, and I was definitely worried that the audience wouldn't be along for them or [would be] like 'oh my god, the tone of that movie is all over the place'. I was literally waiting for — I'm still waiting for somebody to just call me out on that.

But I actually love movies where you don't know where they're going to go, and I think that's the most exciting kind of movie — where you can be actually surprised where it's going to go."


Boy Kills World opened in cinemas Down Under on Thursday, May 2. Read our review.

Film stills: Roadside Attractions.

Published on May 09, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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