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Boy Kills World

Several enemies of the state are murdered on live TV in a pivotal scene from “Boy Kills World,” a hyper-action movie about a media-addicted killer who wants to avenge his family’s deaths. We don’t know who these TV casualties are or what people think of their deaths, but we do know that their killers are Frosty Puffs cereal mascots. This should be a spoiler, but it’s not.

Frosty Puffs are proud sponsors of The Culling, an annually televised flex of power organized by the insecure fascist Melanie Van Der Koy (Michelle Dockery) and her family. Frosty Puffs also plays a crucial role in the over-exaggerated and under-developed backstory of the titular Boy (Bill Skarsgård), a deaf and mute orphan who fondly remembers eating sugary breakfast cereal when he was a happy child, before the Van Der Koys murdered his family.

“Boy Kills World” is a generic programmer about one more lonely mixed media junkie who wants to murder the demagogues that he blames for ruining his life. Skarsgård's character eventually feels conflicted about his murder-quest, as he tells us through overbearingly goofy voiceover narration (H. John Benjamin). But he doesn’t seem to care that his beloved Frosty Puffs have partnered with the Van Der Koys. And in a later scene, Boy also enjoys a bowl of Frosty Puffs. Something doesn’t add up here.

“Boy Kills World” dabbles at media criticism by fixating on the Van Der Koy family’s manipulation of the media. This only means so much in a gory and joyless action comedy that imagines media consumers and political dissidents as unmemorable extras. We know what Skarsgård's avenging hero wants because his stream-of-conscious narration never stops telling us everything he’s thinking or feeling.

We can also tell some things about the righteous nature of the Boy’s mission based on generic training montage sequences starring “The Raid” star Yayan Ruhian. Ruhian plays an eccentric bog hermit who knows how to fight and also takes hallucinogens. The Boy is also haunted by visions of his dead sister (Quinn Copeland), and she talks, too.

The Van Der Koys are also fairly obvious: Melanie is vain and she thinks televised executions are good for her TV ratings; her husband Glen (Sharlto Copley) is a temperamental buffoon who supposedly is (or was?) popular with his wife’s supporters; and Glen’s brother-in-law Gideon (Brett Gelman) is a frustrated artist, pouring his heart into pompous speeches and scripts for his uncaring family’s public demonstrations. In another key scene, Melanie literally projects her insecurities onto the Boy because he can’t communicate verbally. Which is weird, because he still speaks a language that she’s fluent in—over-the-top violence.

During manic action scenes, the cameras swoop over, under, and through teeming crowds of heavily armed and often faceless heavies. Limbs break, bodies tumble through the air, and chunks of flesh frequently explode in gouts of blood. There isn’t a significant difference between the dizzying, sensational presentation of violence in any of the Boy’s fight scenes and, say, the abovementioned Frosty Puffs massacre.

In fact, “Boy Kills World” implicitly associates all violence with video games, like the “Street Fighter”-style fighting game that Skarsgård's character tells us he based his voiceover narration voice on. These action scenes resemble the same antic slow-fast-slow pace of the “Kingsman” spy movie parodies and this year’s “Argylle.” In these braindead media critiques, so much pseudo-comic stress is put on sweeping camera movements and impact-driven maneuvering that it reduces everything funny, upsetting, and spectacular about these scenes to its sheer numbing impact. You don’t get to enjoy any of the on-screen action’s flow or development because the filmmakers constantly insert themselves between you and whatever cheap thrills you might’ve hoped to enjoy.

That creative fussiness suggests an unfortunate parallel between the makers of “Boy Kills World” and Gideon, who at one point bitterly tells off Dennis (Pierre Nelson), an actor stuck rehearsing one of Gideon’s scripted Van Der Koy spectacles. “Feel a ****ing feeling, Dennis,” Gideon pouts. Surely, that meta-criticism means something, like the fight scene’s aggressive stylization or the connection between the Van Der Koys and their breakfast cereal sponsors. Well, yes and no.

You can’t watch “Boy Kills World” passively—did Benjamin’s character have to talk so much?—nor can you draw meaningful conclusions from the third-act plot twists that disrupt the Boy’s plans for revenge. The makers of “Boy Kills World” don’t trust their audience enough to let us just feel a feeling, nor do they encourage their enthusiastic cast members enough to deliver fully-developed performances. Copley plays creepy well, Skarsgård pantomimes his butt off, and Ruhian unsurprisingly looks more convincing than anyone else tasked with executing complicated stunt work. Everything else in “Boy Kills World” could have been directed and scripted by the Van Der Koys.

Simon Abrams

Simon Abrams is a native New Yorker and freelance film critic whose work has been featured in The New York TimesVanity FairThe Village Voice, and elsewhere.

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Film Credits

Boy Kills World movie poster

Boy Kills World (2024)

Rated R

111 minutes

Cast

Bill Skarsgård as Boy

Jessica Rothe as June 27

Famke Janssen as Hilda Van Der Koy

Michelle Dockery as Melanie Van Der Koy

Sharlto Copley as Gideon Van Der Koy

Brett Gelman as Glen Van Der Koy

Director

Writer

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