Boy Kills World smashes a wide range of genres together to create a wonderfully crazy mosaic of action, gore, and imagination.
Have you been wanting to see The Raid, Kill Bill, John Wick, Deadpool, a good R-rated Mortal Kombat film, and every classic kung fu movie, but just couldn’t find the time? Well, luckily for you, director Moritz Mohr has made Boy Kills World so you can watch all of those within a single film. But please don’t mistake that as anything other than the biggest compliment possible, because Boy Kills World is easily my favorite film I’ve seen at TIFF so far, and one of the best, most inventive, and refreshingly insane films I’ve seen all year.
Bill Skarsgård stars as a young deaf-mute man in a dystopian future whose family was murdered by the evil dictator Hilda Van Der Koy (Famke Janssen). After escaping to the jungle, he’s raised by a mysterious shaman (Yayan Ruhian) and trained to become a killer who’s hellbent on getting revenge on Van Der Koy. All while he’s aided by resistance members Basho (Andrew Koji) and Benny (Isaiah Mustafa), visions of his dead sister (Quinn Copeland), and whatever wonderfully twisted things are in director Moritz Mohr’s head.
I described Dicks: The Musical as being made with the constant mindset of, “Why not?”. Boy Kills World was probably made with the constant mindset of, “Why the everlasting f**k not?” This is going to be one of the hardest films for me to review in an even somewhat concise manner, because nearly every single scene has some different, surreal fever dream of an idea that’s ready to explode in all its glory. This world is a wonderful mishmash of retro and futuristic elements, allowing for something as charmingly simple as 80s-style arcade games in a crowded third-world-style block, or as ludicrously theatrical as cereal mascots sponsoring public executions in the form of stage plays. (Though we may be heading there if the Trix rabbit finally snaps at those damn kids.)
Any type of setting, from a dense jungle to a dystopian city to a basic modern-day house before global collapse, is possible in Boy Kills World. Any visual or writing style the film wants to play with, whether it be comic book humor, martial arts choreography, or borderline body horror, can go anywhere at any time. There are no rules, which can and has easily backfired in the past. But everything flies by so quickly and is given only the slightest drop of an explanation, if even that, meaning you’re free to interpret whatever you want in terms of how the world as a whole functions.
One of those interpretations can center around the personification of Boy himself (that’s how he’s credited so it’s what I’m calling him). I’m only now realizing just how versatile an actor Bill Skarsgård is and how much physicality he throws into so many of his roles. This is probably his most demanding role with how much he gets down and dirty in the action and, arguably just as impressively, injects so much character into Boy. Even taking out the inner thoughts of his that we hear throughout the film, his personality still shines through just with his expressions.
And, in one of many subversions of the tropes you might expect, Boy has quite the childish personality. Out protagonist isn’t some super stoic, serious, gruff John Wick type in the slightest. He bonded with his sister in the arcade and therefore treats so many of his battles like a fun fighting game. He has an almost giddy excitement every time he succeeds at something or finds a team to work with. He gets distracted and can be dimwitted but earnestly tries his best to understand what everyone else wants. Even his vision of his sister has its own concrete, sassy personality as an extension of him, a testament to their bond on top of just being frequently funny.
Boy’s vivid imagination is also the source of so much of the film’s visuals and humor, kind of like how I interpret the musically driven action of Baby Driver to be in Baby’s head as his coping mechanism. And the environments around him are flexible enough where you can interpret any number of sight gags as just being how he perceives the world. His inner thoughts also provide a very Deadpool-esque sense of irreverence, but in a more innocent way that endears me to his character even more. He doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting, though, because literally every single character in Boy Kills World is infectiously entertaining to watch. Boy’s allies have a great sense of comradery with him, with Benny being a major highlight because he speaks a language that Boy can’t understand, leading Boy to constantly hear his words as nonsensical sentences.
The villains are even more fun to watch, consisting of one of the most hilariously dysfunctional families to ever be in charge of a government. It becomes very clear very early on that they care more about their showmanship and creative expression while ruling than any form of practicality, causing them to constantly butt heads and prod at each other to the point of self-implosion. I demand a spinoff movie focused entirely on them, please and thank you. No matter what character was on the screen, I wanted to know what they were up to and watch them just be themselves. I was genuinely sad whenever any of them died, either because I felt a true connection with them or because I simply didn’t want their screen time to end.
Still, those deaths are worth it for the gruesome bloodbath in which Boy Kills World also thrives. Like the film in general, the fight sequences blend a bunch of different styles from different films and genres to create something uniquely their own. I shudder to think of how cinematographer Peter Matjasko got some of these sweeping shots. Half the time they seem to exist only to show off, but I don’t care because they’re just so awesome and fit the video game vibe so well. There is a fair amount of shaky cam, but in a rare feat, it’s used in a way where I can still make everything out perfectly and enjoy the stunts. Every single fight is a standout, leaning extremely hard into either its extreme brutality, bizarre creativity, or both. And take notes, Evil Dead Rise, because this movie knows how to use a goddamn cheese grater.
For all of that bloodshed, cartoonish insanity, and gut-busting humor in this roller coaster of a film, the one thing you may not be expecting to find in Boy Kills World is honest-to-God emotional weight. And yet not only is Boy so endearing that he alone provides a great deal of heart, but there comes a point where the film takes a turn for the much more serious. Towards the third act, what had largely been a zany affair is stripped away as tragedies start to pile up, Boy’s actions become more unhinged, and several reveals are dropped that I legitimately didn’t see coming.
Keeping things as vague as possible, these reveals change a lot about how you look at this story and Boy’s quest. What we thought was a simple revenge mission is turned on its head in terms of what Boy had been fighting for, while also enhancing his status as just a pawn in someone else’s story. He’s both beaten down even further while also being given something more to fight for than he thought he had, making the final confrontation and the person he’s fighting alongside feel that much more meaningful.
Boy Kills World comes dangerously close to falling into the familiar trap of condemning violence while having glorified it the whole film, but it knows how to have its cake and eat it too by instead condemning who he’s fighting and why. The climax is also a far more darkly grisly, which works since the fantasy element of Boy’s mission has been completely sucked out by that point. Though the third act has a different feel than the rest of the film, that change in tone works in tandem with the change in Boy’s outlook on everything he’s known and the mental state that was thrust upon him. This stream of much more consequential turns comes so naturally that the transition into more straightforward and serious territory didn’t even make me bat an eye.
At this point, I think I’ve covered as much as I can without giving away the many, many surprises Boy Kills World has up its sleeve. But I still really don’t think I’ve done the film any sort of justice. It’s one of those movies that defies all description; you just have to go and witness it for yourself. This is an all-encompassing madhouse of a wide variety of action-oriented genres, all of which come splattering together to make one of the most spectacular cinematic mosaics I’ve seen in a very long time. Had Boy Kills World come out even ten years ago, I’d be worried that it’s way too relentlessly bonkers. But in the wake of the Spider-Verse movies, Everything Everywhere All at Once, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, and more films that have found great success by eviscerating the mold, this feels like the best time possible for Boy Kills World to come out and find its home.
Boy Kills World premiered at TIFF on September 10, 2023 and will be released in US theaters on April 26, 2024. Read our interview with Boy Kills World‘s director Moritz Mohr and producer Simon Swart.