Boy Kills World Is Absurdly Brutal Escapism

Bill Skarsgård as Boy in Boy Kills World (2024). Courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Boy Kills World is a living arcade game—the kind that action junkies would feed quarters for days. Rather than adapt any specific video game, the film borrows DNA from a variety of side-scrolling beat-‘em-ups such as Streets of Rage, Final Fight, and Stryder. Yet, beneath its dumb fun premise of bloody martial arts mayhem and stylized hyperviolence are hints of a surprisingly self-aware story—one that utilizes comedy to keep things fun as well as permit some absurdly over the top action.

The story follows a character simply known as Boy. At an annual public execution called the Culling, his family is killed by the despotic Van Der Koys. A mysterious shaman then takes the young Boy into the jungle. After years of arduous training, he’s molded into a martial arts murder machine. However, what begins as a straightforward revenge plot soon takes several twists into more disturbing and tragic outcomes.

Famke Janssen as Hilda Van Der Koy in Boy Kills World (2024). Courtesy of Roadside Attractions. Despotic ruler Hilda wears a vintage black dress while pointing an automatic pistol covered in baroque etchings.
Famke Janssen as Hilda Van Der Koy in Boy Kills World (2024). Courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Boy Kills World is, above all else, an action comedy. Yet, it keeps space to attempt serious storytelling. The familiar premise may not be terribly original, but the way it unfolds involves certain interesting choices. Boy, for instance, is a deaf mute unable to communicate with anyone except hallucinations of his dead sister. While this allows for some amusing misunderstandings, it also permits intriguing twists since Boy isn’t a fully informed narrator.

For instance, he sees the Van Der Koys as merely black hats. However, encountering them reveals people exhausted by their own villainy. Even Boy occasionally seems taken aback by the realization that busting bamboo in training isn’t the same as breaking bones in real life. Acknowledging the toll violence has on whoever perpetrates it is partly what sets Boy Kills World apart from other actioners. Though that said, the film isn’t openly decrying its own hyperviolence.

There is a stunning level of brutality to this film. Boy Kills World is a borderline horror show given the buckets of blood it spills. The kitchen brawl is a particularly gruesome stretch that had me simultaneously cheering delightedly while flinching in shock. There’s also something darkly comical about Boy’s reactions such as when he strikes a pose like a victorious video game character after decapitating someone. Not to mention a spectacular fight featuring Dawid Szatarski as Dave, a character who makes the Black Knight from Monty Python look like a quitter.

Yayan Ruthian as the Shaman in Boy Kills World (2024). Courtesy of Roadside Attractions. The mystical Shaman grins maniacally while training Boy in the jungle.
Yayan Ruthian as the Shaman in Boy Kills World (2024). Courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Of course, divorce from reality is part of the film’s thematic premise. No one in Boy Kills World is living in anything near it. And like any good arcade game, this is action escapism with enough bloody violence to inspire a PTA call for boycott.

Leading a solid cast is Skarsgård (It). What he manages to accomplish with Boy is a combination of bodily expressiveness and emotional texture. There’s a constant sense that his character has never evolved mentally beyond the child he was at the beginning. Yet, those childlike qualities never undermine the impression he’s a walking hammer. None of which would work without Skarsgård’s performance that equates to silent era martial arts acting.

Of course, his character isn’t technically silent. H. Jon Benjamin (“Bob’s Burgers”) lends his recognizable voice as Boy’s internal narrator. It works for the most part, especially instances when Skarsgård mimes in perfect sync with voiceovers, particularly while interacting with his own hallucinations. The main problem is that Benjamin’s delivery often lacks variations in tone which makes the gimmick lose its appeal as it gets monotonous.

Jessica Rothe as June27 in Boy Kills World (2024). Courtesy of Roadside Attractions. June27, her eyes dark with kohl shadow, glares down at a beaten Boy.
Jessica Rothe as June27 in Boy Kills World (2024). Courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Equally silent, yet similarly expressive is Yayan Ruhian (The Raid) playing the Shaman. His character is a mystic who makes marital arts look like a deadly dance. Yet, his actions grow new layers of meaning as the audience gets to know more about him.

One of the standout performers is Emmy winner Quinn Copeland (Punky Brewster). She plays the hallucinatory ghost of Boy’s sister, Mina. Her bubbly playfulness contrasts perfectly with his grim determination. Not only does she humanize him, but she stands out as the idealized memory of a lost loved one. Her effusive portrayal allows for some wonderful humor, while injecting a lighthearted quality moments before brutality.

The villainous Van Der Koys are an interesting ensemble. Brett Gelman (“Fleabag”) as Gideon employs the one note he’s built a career on playing yet another pompous, bombastic individual who can somehow be pathetic without gaining likeability. Sharlto Copley plays Glen well enough, but he seemed to be enjoying a similar role more in Monkey Man (2024). The Van Der Koy ladies are Melanie, June27, and Hilda, each portrayed by Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”), Jessica Rothe (Happy Death Day), and Famke Janssen (X-Men). They are the operator of Orwellian media control, the family’s dissident dismembering tactical tomahawk tornado, and head of the family. Janssen delivers a particularly intriguing performance, given in flashbacks she is a steely fierce dystopian leader, while in the film’s present, she’s a twitching paranoiac hiding in a bunker.

Bill Skarsgård as Boy in Boy Kills World (2024). Courtesy of Roadside Attractions. Shirtless, Bill Bill Skarsgård as Boy received martial arts training in the jungle.
Bill Skarsgård as Boy in Boy Kills World (2024). Courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Director Moritz Mohr steers a script by Tyler Burton Smith and Arend Remmers well enough. Action is caught in vivid detail and occasionally clever techniques such as a swooping drone catching carnage while flying through fights. It’s only when Boy Kills World takes breaks to further the narrative that the film stumbles.

Granted, breaths between action are as necessary as slow rises in a rollercoaster. Unfortunately, instead of riding any residual action rush, narrative moments sluggishly plod along plot points. The problem is that no one can interact with the mute main character. This makes most dialogue exposition more than interaction.

Anyone who spent time at arcades of old will recognize this jungled South Asia dystopia. The action is top tier, and the comedy typically hits. Though it sometimes wastes its fast pace with narrative sludge, Boy Kills World is a fun action flick that gets as gory as any slasher story. Some twists may be foreseeable, but still manage to pay off thanks to a solid cast. Boy Kills World is an imperfect, demented exhibition for any hungering violence aficionados.

Written by Jay Rohr

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.

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