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Boy Kills World review — Tongue-in-cheek freight train of violence and gags that pulls you along for a deranged ride

Boy Kills World review — Tongue-in-cheek freight train of violence and gags that pulls you along for a deranged ride
Bill Skarsgård stars as Boy in Boy Kills World. (Image: Supplied / Lionsgate Films)

Boy Kills World is a manic fever dream of over-the-top violence and humour, and as the biggest budgeted production in South African history, it has a lot to live up to. So is this wild ride worth it?

Despite looking like it was ripped straight out of the pages of a graphic novel or inspired by some visually grandiose anime, Boy Kills World was originally dreamed up by first-time feature filmmaker Moritz Mohr and action director/stunt coordinator Dawid Szatarski, who filmed a short pre-viz film to shop around their “Looney Tunes on acid” idea, as the latter put it.

That short blew away the folks at local South African production company Nthibah Pictures as well as Hollywood legend Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-Man), who put his stamp of approval on it. The result is reportedly the biggest-budgeted South African feature film in history. And it’s breathlessly brutal, utterly deranged and so much damned fun.

Boy Kills World is a high-octane freight train of violence and gags that gleefully takes a hatchet to your senses across 100-plus minutes of non-stop action. The film follows Boy (Bill Skarsgård), a young man out to kill Hilda van der Koy (Famke Janssen), the matriarch of the Van der Koy family, de facto rulers of an anonymous totalitarian post-apocalyptic city.

Years earlier, during the Van der Koys’ annual “culling day”, Boy’s mother and sister were killed by Hilda and he was grievously injured, leaving him deaf and mute. Saved from the brink of death by a narcotics-swilling shaman (Yayan Ruhian), Boy endures years of gruelling training in the deep jungle, turning himself into the ultimate weapon to take down the Van der Koys.

Deliciously over the top

Boy Kills World review

Jessica Rothe as June27 and Bill Skarsgård as Boy in Boy Kills World. (Image: Supplied / Lionsgate Films)

On paper, that is a fairly boilerplate setup.

The martial arts genre is piled high with infamously badly dubbed tales of revenge that fit exactly this mould. What Moritz, Szatarski and co-writers Arend Stemmers and Tyler Burton Smith bring to the table though is a tongue so firmly planted in cheek, that it’s practically burrowing out the other side. Everything is deliriously over-the-top, but very much intentionally so. This even includes Boy’s voice.

Since the adult Boy can no longer remember what he sounded like before he was rendered mute, he uses the voice of the announcer (H Jon Benjamin of Archer fame) in his favourite childhood video game for a hilarious continuously running internal monologue. This is only broken up by the ghost of his deceased sister Mina (played charmingly by 12-year-old Quinn Copeland), whom Boy starts seeing and interacting with. June27 (Jessica Rothe), the hatchet-wielding primary enforcer for the Van der Koys, also stands out visually by almost permanently wearing a helmet with a digital display that flashes her emotions and thoughts, all adding to the comic book/anime-ness of this rollicking rollercoaster.

It’s between June27 and Boy that the audience is treated to some of the best fight scenes in a film stuffed to the eyeballs with great fight scenes. Szatarski’s choreography comes off as The Raid by way of The Itchy & Scratchy Show, as characters fight tooth and nail, absorbing inhuman levels of punishment, while incorporating completely unexpected prop ideas.

You will never look at a cheese grater the same way again after this movie.

Selling it all though, is the highly committed cast, led from the front by Skarsgård. Not only does the young actor perform the bulk of the very physical action himself – Mohr uses steady lensing instead of annoying quick cuts so we can always see it’s him – but he has to carry the emotional side of Boy’s struggles with nothing more than facial expressions and body language. It’s a difficult task, but Skarsgard nails it.

Supporting cast 

Boy Kills World review

Yayan Ruhian plays Boy’s saviour, a narcotics-swilling shaman, in Boy Kills World. (Image: Supplied / Lionsgate Films)

On the opposite side of the mouthiness spectrum lie the rest of the Van der Koys: Hilda’s younger siblings Gideon (Brett Gellman) and Melanie (Michelle Dockery), and Melanie’s husband Glen (Sharlto Copley), who act as the paranoid Hilda’s mouthpieces. They all get to have fun and go full slimy villain, even if most of their characterisation is on the wan side, and they sometimes come off a bit too cartoonish even for a film that includes an extended fight scene with costumed cereal mascots.

Special mention has to be made of Basho (Andrew Koji) and Benny (Isaiah Mustafa), the two resistance fighters Boy teams up with against the Van der Koys. If you only know Koji as the self-serious Ah Sahm from Warrior, you’re in for a delightful surprise as Basho is positively manic here, chewing the scenery with gusto. While Mustafa doesn’t have that much to do, Benny does become the source of easily the biggest gag in the film owing to a side-splitting miscommunication issue with Boy.

Unfortunately, said gag is used just a smidge too many times, losing some of its steam in the end. This is a symptom of the filmmakers’ needing to tweak things slightly overall. It is nothing movie-breaking, but another pass on some dialogue, a few tighter edits, more meat applied to some of the characters’ two-dimensional bones or an increase in the number of subtler show-not-tell story beats would have cinched it all together nicely.

Even with those stumbles, Boy Kills World is still an absolute blast if the viewer is just willing to hold on tight and ride it out. It’s not quite a landmark genre moment like The Raid or John Wick – the influences of both of which are clear to see – but it marks Mohr and Szatarski as talents to keep an eye on (not to mention that it’s a fantastic international showcase for the skills of the Cape Town production crew both in front of and behind the camera).

It’s also not a film for everybody – the turned-up-to-11 violence and comedy ensures its niche appeal. However, if you’re looking for something (literally) bloody fun to watch, oh boy are you in for a wild ride! DM

Boy Kills World is in cinemas now, having been released on 26 April.

This story was first published on PFangirl

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