It was precarious, at first, Boy Kills World opening with some tacky Nazi-reminiscent imagery to set the stage of its fascist alternate reality. Thwarting that he’s unable to speak, much of the intro comes via voiceover from Bill Skarsgård as the protégé of a shaman (Yayan Ruhian, The Raid et al.) training him to be a precision killer. The boy, who is deaf and mute, trains constantly in the secluded woods with the shaman who is building him up to kill the fascist leader, Hilda (Famke Janssen) who has recently taken over their city and left them all vulnerable to ritual killings known as “The Culling.” Not far from one such village where culling takes place, he trains to be ready for a fleeting opportunity to shred the ruling family and their symbolic leader. During a routine visit to the village, he gets his chance, leaping into the trunk of a car and thrusting himself into a kick-punch-mega-murder-spree until he is able to face his past and hopeful future.
Boy Kills World (directed by Moritz Mohr) feels like Grant Morrison’s The Hunger Games. It’s impossible not to see its graphic novel inspirations, videogame sensibilities, and downright griminess and lust for blood which is what sets it beside shows like Happy! It isn’t just a collection of cage-rattling action sequences, but also has literal cartoon interludes and props that feel plucked from a hand-drawn fantasy world. Jessica Rothe’s character, which unfortunately sees her face oft-covered by the prop, sports a helmet with a text screen that feels like it was lifted from a page of Saga.
The boy’s inability to hear or speak is answered by a voiceover which, at first, feels like a needless gimmick but later pays off. The first act is overall clunky (with the aforementioned unwelcome imagery), and this is made more obvious by the voiceover used as more of a crutch than a plot point. But like the movie as a whole, it gets better as time rolls on and its soon a delightful gag that lets Skarsgård use beautiful exuberance (in way’s we’ve heard Taron Egerton and Leonardo DiCaprio) to add to the laughs, marrying it with his incredible ability to contort and emote with his face. Many of us have watched him morph into Pennywise for his It audition, and he showcases another facet of his facial animation when furrowing and reacting to words he no doubt recorded off-screen.
Skarsgård also shines by leaning into his own version of being an action star here. Yes, he’s buff and also learned to fight (or movie fight) for the role, but he brings his abilities to ensure we are not just seeing an action hero, but an out-of-place young killer who has been stunted in his maturity. The rest is also raised up by the cast, Andrew Koji getting to be funny and Michelle Dockery getting to chew up scenery and be terrifying.
While the movie has some thematic issues, forecasts its painfully obvious twists, and some gimmicks that quickly get tired, where it shines is by being a midnight movie from top to bottom corners of the screen. It’s the closest thing to The Man Who Feels No Pain , Dredd 3D, and other Midnight Madness martial arts movies than I’ve seen in some time which endeared me to it despite the odd shortcomings. It’s the throat punch weirdo action darling you beg to see as the day turns from one to the next and with late-night darling Skarsgård in the lead, it’s worth popping your popcorn for.
Boy Kills World played the Toronto International Film Festival