Boy Kills World

Bill Skarsgård makes a mesmerising action star in this cartoonishly OTT revenge flick that's produced by iconic 'Evil Dead' filmmaker Sam Raimi.
Sarah Ward
Published on May 01, 2024


In The Hunger Games and its sequels and prequels, a post-apocalyptic totalitarian state enforces order by murder, picking children via lottery to compete until just one remains standing. Before it reached pages and screens, The Running Man, Battle Royale and Series 7: The Contenders were among the stories that got there first, always with kill-or-be-killed contests at their cores. Now Boy Kills World enters the fray, but in a city ruled over by despot Van Der Koy matriarch Hilda (Famke Janssen, Locked In), with a group of candidates chosen annually, then slaughtered at big televised display that is The Culling no matter what. The titular Boy (played by the US Goodnight Mommy remake's Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti as a kid) is the rare exception: after witnessing his sister and mother's execution in this nightmarish realm, he's simply left for dead.

Making his feature debut, director Moritz Mohr (TV's Viva Berlin!) holds tight to another big-screen staple: a revenge mission. As an adult, that the role of Boy falls to Bill Skarsgård fresh from John Wick: Chapter 4 says plenty. The vengeance that's always fuelled that Keanu Reeves (The Matrix Resurrections)-led franchise, and fellow influence Oldboy as well, mixes with cinema's wealth of fight-to-the-death tales. Also thrown in with the fervour of a fan mixing together his favourite things — which is Mohr's unapologetic approach from start to finish — is a colour scheme that Kill Bill also deployed, Deadpool-style humour and violence, notes cribbed from Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman movies and Argylle with its carnage, and nods to video games and Hong Kong action fare plus Looney Tunes and anime.

Accordingly, the make-what-you-adore school of action filmmaking gets another spin with a first-time helmer in 2024, alongside Dev Patel's Monkey Man. Revelling in cartoonishness is unique to Mohr's flick, however — right down to enlisting H Jon Benjamin, aka the voice of Sterling Archer and Bob Belcher in Archer and Bob's Burgers, respectively, as Boy Kills World's narrator. He's Boy's voice, in fact. When we said that Skarsgård's casting says much, it has to; his steps into the red vest of a protagonist who is deaf and mute, and his is a physically expressive instead of vocal performance. Cue Benjamin to utter Boy's explanatory inner monologue, and cue the makings of a modern-day silent-film star in Skarsgård (his next part is a remake of silent classic Nosferatu by Robert Eggers, who directed his brother Alexander in The Northman, and it has the perfect lead if ditching dialogue like the OG movie was on the cards).

As penned by Tyler Burton Smith (2019's Child's Play remake) and Arend Remmers (Oderbruch) — based on a story by Remmers and Mohr, and also a proof-of-concept short that helped the pair get iconic Evil Dead filmmaker Sam Raimi (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) onboard as a producer — Boy Kills World's script is as busy as the movie's list of influences. Mostly, it's packed with characters, and mainly with adversaries for Boy to smash, crash and bash his way through. After experiencing the life-changing trauma of losing his kin at such a young age, he gets set on his course for retaliation by training in the forest with the Shaman (and yes, that The Raid, The Raid 2 and John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum's Yayan Ruhian is in the role is also telling about Mohr's inspirations). Boy is primed for clash after clash (after clash after clash), then, as his campaign for eye-for-an-eye retribution kicks into gear.

Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey: A New Era) as Hilda's sister Melanie, Sharlto Copley (who was also in Monkey Man) as Melanie's husband Glen, Jessica Rothe (the Happy Death Day franchise) as family enforcer June27: they're all in Boy's way. By his side, he has a hallucination of his sister Mina (Punky Brewster), as well as resistance fighter Basho (Andrew Koji, Warrior) in the flesh. A knack for casting also pumps through Boy Kills World beyond its star, but this is always Skarsgård's show. Bill kills. He's traversed dystopias before in Allegiant, grappled with the complexities of a ruling class in Anna Karenina, been immersed in a single-minded mission in Atomic Blonde, given the Deadpool vibe a spin in Deadpool 2, and conveyed everything through his eyes as IT and IT: Chapter Two's Pennywise — and, sporting an action-star physique, he's a find-someone-who-can-do-it-all lead as Boy.

If you need an actor to play a literally silent-type hero and play the hell out of it, Skarsgård is clearly your man. Three questions linger at the heart of Mohr's film, though, two within the storyline and themes, and one for audiences. The first: what makes the action archetype at Boy Kills World's centre truly tick? The second: in a bloodthirsty crusade for reprisals, what's genuinely right and what's wrong? And the third: although this is an impressively choreographed affair that values stunts as much as The Fall Guy (Black Widow and Kingsman: The Golden Circle alum Dawid Szatarski is responsible for the flick's spectacle as its action director and designer, and also fight co-ordinator), would its genre mashup work without Skarsgård's magnetism?

The initial pair of queries are thought starters rather than inquiries that receive a firm answer; they're Boy Kills World's efforts to note that revenge tales and their unspeaking protagonists could use some unpacking. The third question, unsurprisingly, earns a hearty no. Skarsgård gives Boy Kills World its strongest element, and leaves it with a calling card as both an action force and a silent wonder. Mohr ends the feature with his own as an enthusiastic filmmaker giving his all to a highly stylised and slapstick love letter. And for viewers? The quippy humour is spotty, as is the relentlessly frenetic cinematography (by Dark Satellites' Peter Matjasko) that can swing from feverish to exhausting — and, while jam-packed, the film feels its 111-minute length. Still, being entertained by the sheer delirious display of it all, with the picture's B-movie energy, love of gore and unwillingness to hold back, is as easy as inserting coins into an arcade machine.


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