Boy Kills World depicts a candy-colored ultraviolent post-apocalyptic vision of the future on steroids, complete with gory mayhem, note-perfect characterizations, and hilariously off-beat humor. It also happens to be one of the best movies at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. In-demand actor Bill Skarsgård (Stephen King’s It, Barbarian) plays deaf-mute lead Boy with a ferocious and vengeful energy. Lest we assume the action movie of the year John Wick: Chapter 4 will have no competition in that category, Boy Kills World arrives with a hearty slice of darkly comedic fun, and relentless action brawls.
An animated opening brings us up to speed on the world at large. In a “once-great city teetering on the brink of collapse,” the tyrant Hilda Van Der Koy (Famke Janssen, X-Men, Nip/Tuck) seized power. All of those who opposed her were swiftly killed; now every year since, The Culling cherry-picks twelve random people to be killed on live television. Intentional similarities should jump out at the viewer almost immediately, recalling both The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. The decrepit world depicted is definitely not a happy one.
From here, Skarsgård’s punchy narration colors every moment of Boy Kills World. Any other film would probably not let us into the character’s headspace in this way, but allowing the audience access to Boy’s every waking thought is a stroke of brilliance. Brought in at a young age by a mysterious shaman credited as “Mentor,” (Yayan Ruhian, The Raid), Boy (initially played by twins Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti, Big Little Lies) trains with a single purpose: kill Hilda. A montage of Boy’s training as he goes from nervous child to chiseled adult emphasizes the Mentor’s difficult warrior tactics. Images flash sporadically of awful Hilda, and the day Boy’s true family was torn away from him. He becomes hardened and determined, yet thankfully never loses his inner sense of humor.
Director Moritz Mohr, somehow in his feature film debut, brilliantly conveys the sense of communication between Boy and those around him through narration. As Boy crosses paths with more and more colorful characters, his perception of them drives the narrative into some hilarious directions. Constantly accompanied by a young girl (Quinn Copeland) as his inner consciousness, Boy makes bold and brash decisions despite now always fully comprehending what is happening around him. Eventually, Boy teams up with two rambunctious rebels, Benny (Isaiah Mustafa, It Chapter Two, Shadowhunters) and Basho (Andrew Koji, Bullet Train, Snake Eyes). Being both deaf and mute, Boy is imagining how all of these people sound. This comically undercuts an emotional reunion scene, and also makes every word that comes out of Benny’s mouth into an unintelligible series of words strung together. Mohr realizes these as actual visuals onscreen, made all the funnier by Boy’s blatant confusion.
At the center of Boy Kills World’s veritable showcase of oddities, the dastardly Van Der Koy family reigns over citizens like the iron fist of Hunger Games overlord President Snow at The Capitol. Hilda may be off the rails, but the rest of her tribe is equally psychotic. The charming mouthpiece of The Culling, Gideon (Sharlto Copley, District 9, Elysium), feels similar to Caesar Flickerman. His grimy brother, Glen (Brett Gelman, Stranger Things, Love), writes all the vapid speeches, and sister Melanie (Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey, The Gentlemen) acts as the brains of their entire operation, running things from behind the scenes. June 27 (Jessica Rothe, Happy Death Day, Valley Girl) is the family’s “head of security,” sporting a bulky helmet with a visor that flashes with her thoughts over the front. June 27 becomes more important as the movie progresses, and is involved in some of the most complicated and impressive stuntwork. Rothe and Skarsgård play two opposites of the same coin, and appear near-equal matches for their prospective brawling prowess.
The 25-year anniversary of The Culling will truly be one to remember, as the film builds towards an exciting climax at breakneck speed. Blurring the line between hero and villain, a zany script from writers Arend Remmers and Tyler Burton Smith lovingly embraces cartoon logic and over-the-top sensibilities. Furthermore, every inch of Boy Kills World bursts with vibrance and stunning visuals. Donned in a sleeveless red vest completely covered with blood, Bill Skarsgård is fully in his element. Boy Kills World reminded me of many films I love, including but not limited to: Everything Everywhere All At Once, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Kill Bill, The Hunger Games, and John Wick. One thing this movie has that those don’t: cereal mascot Captain Frostington, a cheese grater used to slice up more than cheese, and a dramatic overtaking of a giant gatling gun. Revenge has never tasted so sweet.
Boy Kills World tears throats open as it debuts at the 2023 iteration of the Toronto International Film Festival.