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Review: In 'Boy Kills World' The Golden Age of Over-the-Top Violence Continues

: Kurt Loder on

I don't know when the last time was I saw a movie quite like "Boy Kills World." Not recently, I'll tell you that. This is a picture that takes cues from the best and bloodiest parts of the "Mad Max" movies, "John Wick" movies, "Hunger Games" films, any number of old Hollywood "cattle baron" westerns, Hong Kong kung fu fantasies and Park Chan-wook revenge thrillers. Sounds pretty great? It is pretty great.

Kind of amazingly, given its blazing action and acrobatic visual invention, the picture is a first feature by its German director and cowriter, Moritz Mohr, a man from whom we'll surely be hearing again (although not without warning, let's hope). Mohr is a filmmaker with some fresh and resoundingly violent ideas. (There's a fight with a cheese grater here that every student of advanced mayhem should really try to see.) The movie is an action baptism for Bill Skarsgard, scion of the celebrated Swedish acting family and well known by now as Pennywise, the evil clown in the "It" movies, and the disagreeable Marquis de Gramont in the fourth "John Wick" picture.

In "Boy Kills World," Mohr presents Skarsgard with an unusual challenge -- a role in which he is given no dialogue to speak. Instead, his character, a deaf-mute called Boy (we're in post-apocalyptic land here), makes his thoughts known (to us alone) via an internal monologue voiced by another actor, H. Jon Benjamin. This split-level commentary is surprisingly effective. ("I'm getting better at reading lips," Boy says of his interactions with local normies. "Beats talking to these assholes.")

Boy was orphaned as a kid by a member of the prominent Van Der Koy family, which operates an annual TV murder pageant called the Culling. One of the Van Der Koys killed Boy's mother and little sister, Mina (Quinn Copeland), after which Boy was raised in the jungle by a mysterious figure called the Shaman, played by Indonesian martial arts star Yayan Ruhian ("The Raid"). Shaman trained Boy to be an "ultimate warrior," feeding him only Frosty Puffs cereal and running him around on a nonstop regimen of ballistic and martial arts training. Boy now has only one purpose in life: to confront and kill Van Der Koy matriarch Hilda Van Der Koy (Famke Janssen) and as many of her bickering family members as he can manage. That would include Melanie Van Der Koy (Michelle Dockery), the publicist and brain of the family; Gideon Van Der Koy (Brett Gelman), a speechwriter for his brother-in-law Glen; and Glen himself (Sharlto Copley), the host of a TV talk show connected to the annual Culling.

The design of the picture's urban environments suggests "Blade Runner" after the rain has let up, and there's a psychedelic vibe to the story -- with unseen lips blowing some sort of dope smoke in people's faces -- that accords with the picture's general sense of disorientation. (Note also the hands reaching out of a man's mouth and the eyeballs floating out of his sockets.)

The violence is epic and virtually incessant (and of course usually pretty funny, too). The neck crackings and blood geysers may not be new, but the sight of an elbow flattening someone's nose is an unusual effect, and the sudden jolt of a large piece of automobile engine falling into someone's unprotected face is ... well, the sort of thing every action monkey lives for.

 

Given more room to move than most actors in this sort of film, the cast here really comes alive. Eleven-year-old Copeland (seen in flashbacks) manages to be both endearingly sweet and surprisingly salty. ("What the fuck?" she wonders.) And Dockery, onetime star of "Downton Abbey," could have a whole new career ahead of her as a sort of patrician badass. Amid a hilarious and astonishingly gory battle on the set of an elaborate TV commercial, she pauses to pose the question, "Do you know how hard it is to get a cereal company to sponsor mass murder?" Probably not, eh?

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Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

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