“Boy Kills World” at the Toronto Film Festival is a vigorous splatterfest with little on its mind besides concocting new ways for its agent of death to end lives.
Tallying what will likely be the highest body count at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (where it’s debuting in the Midnight Madness section), Boy Kills World is a high-octane action extravaganza sure to satiate genre fans’ delirious bloodlust.
Based on a short of the same name, director Moritz Mohr and writers Arend Remmers and Tyler Burton Smith’s dystopian saga is a bonkers smash-up of a million geeky things at once, from movies (The Raid, The Running Man, The Hunger Games, John Wick, Dredd) and video games (Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, countless first-person shooters) to comics, cartoons, anime, and all manner of post-apocalyptic fiction. If its ingredients are well-known, however, its balls-to-the-wall carnage is uniquely deranged—complete with one standout scene that shows Evil Dead Rise how to put a cheese grater to truly gruesome use.
There’s truth to Boy Kills World’s advertising, as its story concerns a rampage that leaves so many dead bodies scattered about that one feels intermittent pangs of pity for the maintenance crews that will inevitably have to come in afterwards to clean up the mess. No such compunction plagues the film’s protagonist, the unnamed adolescent Boy (Nicholas Crovetti), who resides in a forest hut on the outskirts of a metropolis with his mentor Shaman (The Raid’s Yayan Ruhian). This land is ruled by the tyrannical Hilda Van Der Koy (Famke Janssen), who restored law and order 25 years ago through authoritarian force, and who hosts an annual televised event known as The Culling, in which alleged dissidents and criminals (but, in reality, innocent citizens) are rounded up and publicly executed in lavishly perverse pageants.
Boy is both deaf and mute (albeit not naturally), and he’s therefore only heard via inner-monologue narration that’s as ferociously jokey as the rest of these proceedings. By day, Boy is trained by his mentor to be an unstoppable “instrument” whose sole purpose is to kill Hilda, and by night, he has drug smoke blown in his face by Shaman, thereby instigating trippy hallucinations of anthropomorphic teeth, eye bubbles, and hands reaching out of throats. Before long, the young Boy has grown into a lean, mean adult fighting machine (played by an imposingly ripped Bill Skarsgård) who’s nonetheless still traumatized by memories of his mother and sister’s Culling execution at the hands of Hilda. So deep is this pain, in fact, that Boy routinely sees and speaks with his deceased sibling (Quinn Copeland), who’s akin to an impish second voice in his head as well as a de facto sidekick and, ultimately, his conscience.
Thanks to horrific tragedy and copious narcotics, Boy’s head is not altogether there, and that winds up being an amusing complicating factor once he decides to put his combat preparations into practice. During a trip to the city, Boy±wearing a sleeveless red vest straight out of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” music video—encounters Hilda’s childishly bickering brother Glen (Brett Gelman) and son-in-law Gideon (Sharlto Copley) as they capture future Culling victims.
Incapable of standing by and letting this monstrousness take place, Boy demonstrates a savagery that’s as dynamic as Mohr’s direction, his (regularly drone-enabled) camera zooming, leaping and spinning about the wannabe hero as he lays waste to his adversaries. Sneaking back to the Van Der Koy’s compound in a car trunk already inhabited by a corpse (who “speaks” to him), Boy slaughters countless additional foes, all as Gideon and Glen reunite with Melanie (Michelle Dockery), who runs the family empire’s PR division and whose main concern is making sure the upcoming Culling is a hit.
Boy Kills World is bursting with sleek, gory imagination, be it the Van Der Koy’s chief warrior June 27 (Jessica Rothe), who communicates both verbally and through her LED visor, or Boy’s eventual partners Basho (Andrew Koji) and Benny (Isaiah Mustafa), the latter of whom is a bearded mumbler whose lips Boy can’t read—thus turning his dialogue into gibberish (which the film frequently, humorously visualizes). Boy demolishes anonymous soldiers with his fists, feet, and an assortment of blades, hammers, axes, pistols, shotguns, and anything else he can find (like the aforementioned kitchen item). Director Mohr stages his battles with a bruised, brawny viciousness that’s at once bracing and comical, as when Boy tussles with June 27 in a gala dining room and, while being flipped on the centerpiece table, takes time to snag a macaron with his mouth. The tone is R-rated Looney Tunes on acid, and that’s even before Boy finds himself smack dab in the middle of the Culling, staged by Melanie as a winter wonderland performance boasting killers in sailor outfits and The Purge masks, as well as giant-headed cereal mascot costumes.
Skarsgård never utters an on-screen word and yet his facial and physical expressiveness, when coupled with his droll narration, is impressively compelling, turning Boy into a drolly lethal man-child on a mission of vengeance. There are surprises in store for the slayer (and viewers), but the film’s thrills are less a byproduct of narrative shocks than tongue-in-cheek butchery. Mohr keeps his pedal to the metal for the majority of Boy Kills World, and that rapid-fire pace is key to its success; only in its final act, when it slows down in order to deal with big dramatic revelations, does it lose a bit of steam. Fortunately, that’s a minor speed bump in what is largely a vigorous splatterfest with little on its mind besides concocting new ways for its agent of death to end lives.
Boy Kills World has no greater ambition than wowing late-night multiplex (and festival) audiences, and by designing and executing a host of funny and fierce skirmishes that consistently up the ante, it succeeds where it matters most. To that end, it also has an ace up its crimson-stained sleeve: Indonesian martial-arts legend Ruhian, whose acrobatic, lightning-quick moves are a fearsome spectacle to behold. Although Ruhian disappears for most of the middle section of Mohr’s feature directorial debut, just think of that as the tease before the jaw-dropping payoff: a final throwdown which confirms that standing toe-to-toe with, and getting pummeled by, the actor is nothing short of an action-movie badge of honor.
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