top of page


Boy Kills World (18)

Director: Moritz Mohr
Screenplay: Tyler Burton Smith, Arend Remmers, Moritz Mohr

Starring: Bill Skarsgard, Jessica Rothe, Michelle Dockery

Running time: 111 minutes

Cinema release

Review: David Stephens

Pretty much nobody saw this coming. Pennywise the Dancing Clown becoming a hench action hero in several high-profile films. But that’s just what Bill Istvan Günther Skarsgård has managed to do this year. The Swedish character actor nailed the lead role in “IT” and the sequel, and whilst he was the main antagonist in “John Wick: Chapter Four”, the cowardly git he played never directly engaged in fisticuffs. That’s changed with his forthcoming role in “The Crow” remake and this offbeat bloody revenge thriller which has just opened on UK and USA screens. This time around, Skarsgård is a deaf and mute orphan with a chiselled body and martial arts training, as well as a lust for revenge. “Boy Kills World” is the feature-length directorial debut from Moritz Mohr, and among the many producers of the film is a certain Mr Sam (“Evil Dead”) Raimi who has been cheerleading the project. The cast is also pretty special, including as it does Jessica Rothe (“Happy Death Day”), Famke Janssen, Michelle Dockery, Sharlto Copley, and many others. Hugely bloody and with a well-deserved R/18 rating, it might not be strictly horror … but you’re not likely to see a better head-squishing or gore-splattered smacking for the rest of the year, so let’s go.


It starts with a sequence that other revenge thrillers would normally leave for the third act… a hardcore training montage with inspirational music. This sees the young “Boy” (who matures quickly into Skarsgård) being put through punishing exercises and fighting matches until he develops superlative martial arts skills. Overseeing this is “Shaman” (Yayan Ruhian, Mad Dog from “The Raid”!), who has a vested interest in seeing Boy take his revenge on Hilda Van Der Koy (Janssen). See, we’re in a dystopian alterna-world where the Van Der Koy dynasty rule a rundown city with an iron fist. In fact, they hold a yearly “Culling” where enemies of the family are publicly offed in a televised entertainment show. Boy cannot speak or hear, having lost those senses due to trauma when he lost his mother and sister to the sadistic Hilda. But he can damn well punch hard, and he will have his vengeance… even if he has to go through “June27” (Rothe, somehow with harder stomach muscles than Skarsgård) and put up with the nagging hallucination of his dead sister. At least he has an awesome inner voice (Harry Jon Benjamin)!!


It’s probably true to call this a love-it or hate-it experience. Despite the familiar Mad Max-type set-up, it is absolutely batshit crazy in tone and has an endearing screwball sense of humour that verges on the childish. Having said that, it is also extremely bloody and culminates in fist fights that literally paint the walls red with blood, lasting longer than that notorious punch-up in John Carpenter’s “They Live” and with all sense of realism being thrown out the window. And to be honest, due to a number of factors we’ll cover, it’s a highly enjoyable piece of hokum that feels notably different to other recent smack-fests. The first half of the film alternates between a John Boorman version of “The Hunger Games” and a spoof of action-thrillers. Boy has only two friends… who are beetles in a fight club (until someone steps on them). He also spends his days engulfed in Shaman’s Ganja, meaning that he has trippy visions, which possibly cause the ghost of his sister to appear … and dress up as a ninja butterfly! And yes… Skarsgård does that weird thing with his eyeballs again.


Those aren’t the only offbeat elements, as there’s a wacky and silly sense of distinctive humour that runs throughout the film. The best of which is a running joke where Boy encounters a character with a beard who mumbles. As he can only understand people by lip reading, it leads to the actor spouting gibberish dialogue (“Go Go robot steals the biscuits”) and makes an infiltration plan unintelligible. And then there’s Boy’s inner voice (Skarsgård never vocalises at all) as Benjamin (best known as “Archer” and Bob from “Bob’s Burgers”) says exactly what Boy or the audience are thinking, and also provides video game narration to boot (“Player 2 is … fuckin’ crazy!”). There are even fun little incidental details like Boy describing everything in dictionary definitions because that’s where his education came from.  


If that all sounds a bit silly and childish, that’s because… well, it is really. But it feels refreshing and distinctive alongside the other elements, such as the extreme violence and OTT melodrama. Not many films feature a knuckleduster combined with a handgun, but this does (in a throwaway sequence), as well as the worst/best use of a cheese grater since “Evil Dead Rise”. That’s the sort of invention and energy that runs all the way through and extends into the (many) fight sequences, all of which are frantically choreographed and breathlessly filmed. The camera whirls around the fighters and chases their progress in the style of an HK or Malaysian actioner, with bone-cracking sound FX and plenty of prosthetic gore. Whilst there is some wirework, graphic enhancement, and stunt stand-ins, for the most part, the fighting is pretty fluid. Skarsgård in particular manages the physicality well, especially in later scenes. As does Rothe (who has a black belt in Tae Kwan Do) and it would be interesting to see her in more full-on action roles.

In terms of acting, although Skarsgård gets off light for script learning, he still brings plenty of expressiveness to the role. Whilst the characters are all pretty thin in narrative and motivational aspects, Janssen somehow manages to swallow massive chunks of the scenery with large gulps, nearly stealing the film despite having minimal screen time and is hugely watchable as an atypically highly-strung villain. Dockery is also needlessly marvellous as the most un-“Downton Abbey” character she has played so far and has a great final scene. It might seem unnecessary to point out the humour and performances in what will probably be considered by most to be a brainless action film, but that’s part of its charm. Yes, it is mostly one long run-through of extended fight sequences with the occasional side-quest, as most of the events in the plot take place in the narrative over only a few hours, and there are inevitably many plot holes. But the offbeat quality of it all, coupled with an urgent sense of energy and invention, is what makes it worthy of recommendation.


Despite the silliness of some of the gags and the irreverent tone, the story takes a pleasingly poignant tone in the latter scenes which touches on the futility of revenge and provides a couple of neat (if not wholly unexpected) twists to the story. It all culminates in a wonderfully brutal final boss battle, which underlines the “video game” motif that runs throughout proceedings and leads into a satisfying ending (and post-credit scene for the more patient members of the audience). As such, it’s something that will likely not work for everyone, especially those who may find the humour a little basic or the running time a little lengthy for the content. It’s also likely to get overlooked in the pre-summer crush of films, alongside stuff like “Fall Guy” and the latest “Planet of the Apes” entry. But give this quirky beat-em-up a chance and you may just be won over. Potentially a cult film that will be revaluated and subject to sequels in later years. Top Boy.

Undoubtedly divisive, but this is probably the best blood-filled fight-fest since “Sisu”. Energetic, inventive, silly, and poignant in turns, it never slows down and engages the senses so that the runtime flashes by. It’s never going to top the box office, but those looking for robust and gory smackdowns with a different beat should really check this out.
bottom of page