Boy Kills World (2023)

Murdering down this road that we call life

Boy Kills World stars a deaf and mute ultra-fighter played by Bill Skarsgard. (He’s probably the second-most famous of Stellan Skarsgard’s kids behind Alexander, but I can’t say for sure, as it seems a new one emerges from the ether to star in an indie action or horror pic every 18 months.) Yet the character’s deafness plays no role in 90% of the film’s scenes, and in lieu of thoughtful or intense silence, we’re treated to a nonstop internal monologue voiceover of “well, that just happened” humor by H. Jon Benjamin. The film is a revenge story with no pathos and no catharsis. It co-stars the ever under-appreciated and under-cast Jessica Rothe as a stormtrooper bodyguard, yet she’s drastically underutilized, almost completely absent or shunted to the side until the film’s closing 15 minutes.

Have I sold you on it yet? No? Let me pitch you a few more points. The film is about 25 minutes too long. It’s set in a John Carpenter-esque dystopia but with only a few fun bits of production design. It features one of the most annoying characters of recent memory, Basho (Andrew Koji). It has a big twist that’s simultaneously predictable and extremely dumb, the revelation of which should kick off the movie’s last ten minutes, but instead comes with about 40 minutes left in the runtime. The tone is nightmarishly calibrated, not quite funny nor frothy nor muscular nor brooding.

Put another way, Boy Kills World is pure, unadulterated wasted potential. It’s got a hook that sounds kinda cool from the outside: arch revenge flick in a part-Trumpian DC, part-cyberpunk dystopia. But every moment, even the occasional good one, is subsumed in the jittery nausea of creative chaos. You can tell nobody on this crew — the writer, the editor, the director, the production designer, the casting director — was on the same page. Total misfire.

There are parts that work, and they are the fight scenes. If you’re a pig to action slop, you might even like this movie. Boy Kills World has some vaguely John Wick-ish, video game-flavored, fight-through-a-room sequences. And they’re decent! Exciting and playfully nasty. There’s a stomach-turning corker set in a fancy kitchen that ensures I will never look at cheese graters the same way. The big mid-film semi-climax takes place on a TV set with hilarious juxtaposition of ultra-violence and network TV cheeriness.

And the very last fight scene is the best in the film. It’s a “final boss” fight that lives up to the buildup: a terrific, visceral showdown that turns all of the participants involved into bloody pulps. Ending on your best foot always ensures I’ll look back on your film more fondly than if the opposite were true. This is true of Boy Kills World, so much that I’m tempted to bump the rating up a point from what you see below. Yet the fact that it comes after such a stretched out, underwhelming runtime diminishes its punch too much for me to push it over the hump.

Rothe is predictably great in an underfed role, but it has me wondering what her deal is. Does she have a bad agent? Is she a nightmare to work with and semi-blacklisted? Why isn’t she starring in two or three movies every year across the full spectrum of genres? Why must we Rothe-heads beg for scraps like this? She was astonishing in the Happy Death Days, and has carried a few mediocre indies by herself. I demand a Rothenessaince!

She’s not the only cast member who’s good. Martial artist Yayan Ruhian of some of Gareth Evans‘ films is an imposing figure as Skarsgard’s trainer, “Shaman.” Skarsgard himself, meanwhile, is fine enough in a very physical lead role. My favorite villain turn is Brett Gelman as a slimy goon confronting his flickering conscience. Michelle Dockery, who I mostly know from Downton Abbey, is fun as a prima donna baddie, too. I just wish the film was a better vehicle for any of these performances.

On the flip side, it’s tough to overstate just how movie-ruining Benjamin’s appearance is. He fills all the dead air, and movies need some dead air. It’s an RC Cola Deadpool shtick, breaking the fourth wall with corny jokes. His quips are dumb and distracting, and it totally removes you from the action.

Boy Kills World has fleeting moments of fizzy, violent fun, but it’s ultimately a disappointment. Too many self-defeating pieces in conflict with one another with too little payoff. Debut director Moritz Mohr shows some signs of energy and imagination — really leaning into the video gamey feel from time to time — but fails to corral the project into a satisfying whole. Fingers crossed his next effort holds together better.

Is It Good?

Not Very Good (3/8)

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3 replies on “Boy Kills World (2023)”

Saw the trailer a while ago, and I was interested until I realized H. Jon Benjamin was an inner monologue. Maybe that could work, but it’s a high-wire act, and I assume that if the movie were remotely good it would be a big discourse object regarding treating a deaf person as the equivalent of a dog in an Incredible Journey. And I’m not sure that would be the wrong take on it. (Nor does it help that, despite being great as Sterling Archer, his long tenure as Bob Belcher is pretty close to ruining Benjamin for any VA role that requires projecting physical competence or charisma. Not his fault, but not not his fault, you know? Coach McGuirk forever, though.)

Also, Alexander, surely. I barely knew what Bill looked like till I saw this trailer.

Good point on Alexander vs. Bill, and I’ve updated the post. I’m not sure how I convinced myself Bill was more famous (he did star in It, which is probably more popular than any of Alexander’s movies, but I don’t think he’s as much of a name.) I usually don’t have any sort of face blindness but the Skarsgards throw me off. All handsome and imposing but slightly alien looking (Bill especially so)

I planned to see this during its theatrical run out of fealty to Yayan; but looking at its tiresome postmodern shtick I just couldn’t be bothered.

Glad to learn I made the right call!

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