The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Boy Kills World

By George & Josh Bate

Boy Kills World review

Revenge films are a dime a dozen. From Charles Bronson’s Death Wish in 1974 and earlier, revenge has often served as the instigating motivation for a lead character’s journey in a range of films. If one is to seek evidence indicative of the longevity of revenge films, look no further than the recently released Monkey Man, a film about a man who seeks revenge against those who killed his mother. Given the frequent usage of revenge as a plot point, new revenge movies like Monkey Man have a difficult task to stand out from the numerous similar films that came before it.

The latest in the seemingly endless array of revenge films is Boy Kills World. From director Moritz Mohr in his feature directorial debut, Boy Kills World follows a man known simply as Boy (played by Bill Skarsgård), who seeks revenge against Hilda Van Der Koy (played by Famke Janssen), an evil dictator and matriarch of an all-powerful dynasty, for killing his sister. The deaf and mute Boy is trained by a shaman (played by Yayan Ruhian) before he joins up with a group of similarly motivated individuals in a relentless campaign of violence against the Van Der Koy family.

Boy Kills World review

Boy Kills World stands apart from other revenge films with its highly stylized tone, action, and fictional world. Brisk pacing and sharp editing straight out of a Guy Ritchie or Edgar Wright movie complement a delightfully twisted approach from director Mohr. Comparisons are difficult, but Boy Kills World evokes Kill Bill and strikes a tone similar to that of Deadpool and other R-rated action comedies explicit in both their action and humor. A perfect example of this tone comes as Bill Skarsgård’s Boy fights various henchmen dressed as eccentric fictional characters on the stage of a television show airing public executions. Boy, whose deafness leads him to rely on lip-reading, becomes confused as he struggles to accurately read the lips of Isaiah Mustafa’s Benny character. As a result, the entirety of Mustafa’s dialogue in the film ends up being garbled word salad as this is what Boy is perceiving Benny as saying. The running joke fosters a chuckle or two throughout, but, indicative of the broader film’s sense of humor, isn’t anything groundbreaking or gut-bustingly funny.

The film unfolds in a fictional world created by writers Tyler Burton Smith and Arend Remmers and director Mortiz Mohr. The audience is thrown into the middle of a foreign place (A country? Land? Planet? It’s purposefully not clear) that looks and feels like a dystopian Asian country (although the movie was filmed in Cape Town, South Africa). And, just like the film’s tone, the world in which it is set in feels distant and stylized. 

Boy Kills World review

Overseeing the land with an iron fist is Famke Janssen’s Hilda Van Der Koy and the rest of the van der Koy family, including her sister Melanie (played by Michelle Dockery), her brother Gideon (played by Brett Gelman), and her brother-in-law Glen (played by Sharlto Copley). The control the Van Der Koy dynasty has over this land is excessive and exaggerated, removed from reality in the same vein as the rest of the film. The matriarch Hilda, for example, is introduced as having commissioned her brother Gideon and brother-in-law Glen to round people up for inclusion in a televised, comicall massacre.

With a silent and stoic performance from lead Bill Skarsgård, the Van Der Koy family end up being the most fascinating characters. Each member of the family is eccentric in a unique way, nonchalantly bickering with one another as the people under their rule suffer. Each of the members of the Van Der Koy family prove to be exuberant and thoroughly dislikable villains, making them the ideal antagonists for a revenge movie.

Spearheading this campaign of revenge is Bill Skarsgård’s deaf and mute lead. His character’s inner voice narrates the film, providing much of its exposition and tone-setting. In an intriguing move though, Skarsgård does not voice Boy’s inner voice. Instead, this task is given to H. Jon Benjamin, known for his voice roles in Archer and Bob’s Burgers. Boy’s inner voice is based on the voice of a character from an arcade video game he used to play with his sister. While this makes for an interesting and touching spin on the use of narration, reconciling Benjamin’s distinct voice with Skarsgård’s on-screen performance remains difficult throughout. 

A more successful creative decision comes from the inclusion of Boy’s dead young sister as a hallucination. Boy’s sister accompanies Boy throughout the film, offering support and quirky remarks during intense fight scenes. Having the subject of a revenge film feature so heavily through visions/hallucinations adds some heft behind the revenge plot line as Boy (and the audience) are constantly made aware of what the revenge is all about. In the final act, the vision of Boy’s sister suddenly dissipates as a result of another plot developing, which unfortunately brings this unique creative decision to an abrupt end.

If one’s motivation in watching Boy Kills World is to see some good action sequences, then you’re likely to come away pleased. Elaborate shoot-outs and innovative hand-to-hand combat sequences comprise the vast majority of Mohr’s film. More stylized than fight scenes in the likes of John Wick or Monkey Man, Boy Kills World adopts a colorful approach to its action, while never losing its intensity. The stunt work to bring this action to life is extraordinary and Skarsgård wholeheartedly commits to the physical side of his role with a committed lead performance. A brilliantly choreographed final fight and an action sequence that proves to be the worst thing to happen to the cheese grater since Evil Dead Rise are among the highlights of a thoroughly entertaining action movie.

Boy Kills World review

Finally, narratively, Boy Kills World is a mostly conventional revenge movie, although it features a great and unexpected twist. In less capable hands, such a twist could have gone awry and breached into convoluted territory, but it’s handled confidently and assuredly here.

VERDICT: 6.5/10

The latest in the seemingly endless run of revenge films, Boy Kills World features a highly stylized filmmaking approach. A heightened tone and exuberant sense of humor and violence reminiscent of Deadpool and other similarly minded R-rated action comedies don’t always work, although the film has enough personality and ambition to compel. Bill Skarsgård delivers a committed and physical performance as the lead, despite there being difficulties reconciling Skarsgård’s on-screen performance with H. Jon Benjamin’s voice performance as the character. Well-choreographed, intense action sequences sprinkled with a sense of humor to lighten things up energize the proceedings and will please those simply looking for a film with great action. In this sense, Boy Kills World does enough to stand apart from other revenge films and suggests a promising career is ahead for director Moritz Mohr.

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