‘Boy Kills World’ Review: Bill Skarsgård Is a Deaf-Mute Avenger in an Action Film So Ultraviolent It’s Like ‘John Wick’ Gone ‘Clockwork Orange’ (2024)

In “Boy Kills World,” Bill Skarsgård has burning eyes and model cheekbones, sinewy arms popping out of a dirty red athletic vest, and a feral pout that makes him look like Jean-Claude Van Damme crossed with Lou Reed. He plays a deaf-mute avenger, known only as Boy, who kills people in insanely violent ways. Yet through it all, the character retains his innocence. He’s a wounded wild child in a man’s body.

Raised in a mountain hideaway by a martial-arts trainer and resistance fighter called the Shaman (Yayan Ruhian), who may remind you, at first, of the Zen master in “Kill Bill: Volume 2,” Boy had his past taken away from him by a vicious totalitarian regime. During the Culling, an annual ritual where law and order is maintained by having criminals confront each other in a state-sanctioned televised death match, Boy saw his little sister, Mina (Quinn Copeland), executed right in front of him. Now he’s getting his payback. (She keeps popping up as a ghost/hallucination who becomes his buddy.)

“Boy Kills World” is the first feature directed by the German-born Moritz Mohr, and he draws on a panoply of sources: video games and graphic novels, “The Hunger Games” and “The Purge,” the “John Wick” films and the decadent showpiece action fandangos of Matthew Vaughn. Yet the movie is more deliriously violent than any of them. In pursuit of his enemies, Boy slashes and gouges and decapitates. He bare-knuckle punches with a split-second intensity that magnetizes the camera to his every move. He unleashes machine-gun fire with the dexterousness of a ballistic surgeon, and he doesn’t just kick — he turns his body into a twirling homicidal battering ram. The action is the point, but it’s not the whole point; “Boy Kills World” succeeds at creating a toxic cartoon fascist world. The film’s astonishing levels of violence are about what it takes to overcome its version of evil.

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If you were asked to define the difference between the movies of the early ’70s and the movies of today, the answer would be obvious: Back then, a lot of movies — even those from Hollywood — had a boldness and storytelling purity and humanity; today, too many movies are overcooked franchise popcorn. Yet there’s another way to characterize the difference. In 1971, Stanley Kubrick released “A Clockwork Orange,” and it’s no exaggeration to say that it deeply shocked people. It was a singular and disturbing vision —a sociopathic dystopia —that flirted with a kind of sick-puppy voyeuristic horror. When you watched the “Singin’ in the Rain” scene, it was extending the boundaries of how transgressive a work of art could be.

So what does it say that in a movie like “Boy Kills World,” that level of cheeky dark sadism has been turned into a pure lark — the new extreme threshold of mainstream entertainment? The fact that this is what we now seek out for kicks may be scarier than anything in “A Clockwork Orange.”

Yet the pop culture of the last 50 years has primed us for it: the slasher movies, the video games, the high-body-count delirium of the “John Wick” series, which may have been the first films to package this kind of relentlessness as cutthroat jollies for the megaplex. The kill-kill-kill spirit of “John Wick” made a film like “Boy Kills World” possible, yet “Boy Kills World” takes it all a step further. It’s the action film as slasher movie as gonzo damaged-superhero movie. It’s a depraved vision, yet I got caught up in its kick-ass revenge-horror pizzazz, its disreputable commitment to what it was doing.

Boy, who can read lips, understands most of what’s happening around him, and he reacts to events by talking directly to us on the soundtrack, in an exaggerated he-man voice (like Mel Gibson’s in “Mad Max”). You could say that the movie, in a way, cheats the fact that he can’t speak, but Boy’s quips-from-his-inner-voice lend “Boy Kills World” a graphic-novel funkiness.

Boy has gone out into the world to right its wrongs, but what’s standing atop the pyramid isn’t the usual stoic power addict. It’s a dysfunctional family of rulers who are at each other’s throats. Mohr, working from a script by Tyler Burton Smith and Arend Remmers, has fun fleshing out these baroque villains. I enjoyed Brett Gelman as the bearded brother who’s like a diamond-district chiseler who thinks he’s a brilliant screenwriter, and Famke Janssen as the matriarch who’s losing her mind. As the dynasty’s media ringleader, Sharlto Copley does his showboat thing (and gets what he deserves). Mohr stages the Culling as the spectacular slaughterhouse version of a winter-wonderland TV commercial. It’s a sequence that would make Alex from “A Clockwork Orange” stand and applaud in glee.

There’s a big twist — or really, two in one. The state soldier, named June27 (Jessica Rothe), who speaks in slogans flashed onto her digital combat visor turns out to be closer to home than we think. And a character we assume is heroic is revealed to be an emotionally broken monster. All of that succeeds in holding our attention, and the climactic fight — a threesome — is shot and choreographed with brutal visual wizardry. It’s all held together by Skarsgård’s performance, and the trick of it is that you never catch him playing dumb. Yet Boy is often a beat behind what’s happening. That’s what makes us warm up to him; he’s a blood-spattered avenger in spite of himself. He turns the old ultraviolence into child’s play.

‘Boy Kills World’ Review: Bill Skarsgård Is a Deaf-Mute Avenger in an Action Film So Ultraviolent It’s Like ‘John Wick’ Gone ‘Clockwork Orange’ (2024)


‘Boy Kills World’ Review: Bill Skarsgård Is a Deaf-Mute Avenger in an Action Film So Ultraviolent It’s Like ‘John Wick’ Gone ‘Clockwork Orange’? ›

'Boy Kills World' Review: Bill Skarsgård Is a Deaf-Mute Avenger in an Action Film So Ultraviolent It's Like 'John Wick

John Wick
John Wick is an American neo-noir action film series and media franchise created by Derek Kolstad. It centers around the titular character portrayed by actor Keanu Reeves. Wick is a legendary hitman who is reluctantly drawn back into the criminal underworld after retiring.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › John_Wick
' Gone 'Clockwork Orange' Moritz Mohr's first feature draws on a great many sources, from video games to "The Hunger Games," to build a world all its own.

Is a Clockwork Orange worth watching? ›

A Clockwork Orange is by no means an easy film to get through, as many will be turned off by the scenes of violence and rape. But this masterpiece is far more complex than a simple romp through a world of youthful violence. It's a rare example of film-making that demands that the viewer actually think.

Who is the new actor for Pennywise? ›

Bill Istvan Günther Skarsgård (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈbɪlː ˈskɑ̌ːʂɡoːɖ]; born 9 August 1990) is a Swedish actor. He is best known for portraying Pennywise in the horror films It (2017) and It Chapter Two (2019), based on Stephen King's novel of the same name.

How disturbing is A Clockwork Orange? ›

Psychologically disturbing due to the fact that the main characters are male teenagers who take sad*stic delight in their wanton acts of depravity and cruelty. The violence is infamously graphic, and it's not for physical impact, but for its sad*stic and psychological tone. There is no blood or gore anywhere.

Why was A Clockwork Orange banned? ›

There were claims that the film was responsible for a number of 'copycat' crimes including home invasions, rapes, street beatings and murder. Headlines such as 'Hunt for Clockwork Orange Sex Gang' began to appear in the press during the 1970s.

Who is the girl in Pennywise? ›

Sophia Lillis (born February 13, 2002) is an American actress. She starred as Beverly Marsh in the horror films It (2017) and It: Chapter Two (2019), as well as Sydney Novak in the Netflix drama series I Am Not Okay With This (2020).

Is Bill Skarsgard coming back as Pennywise? ›

During an interview with Jake's Takes the popular Pennywise actor confirmed that he won't be back for the upcoming prequel. “As of now, I'm not currently involved with it,” he said. “If someone else gets to do it, my advice would be: Do it your own. Make it your own.

Who was almost cast as Pennywise? ›

The role originally went to Will Poulter, who was in his early 20s. It wound up going to Bill Skarsgård, a performer in his mid-20s. Before that, f*ckunaga had considered both Ben Mendelsohn and the legendary Mark Rylance, who would have been in his mid-50s during the audition process.

Why is Clockwork Orange considered so good? ›

The novel is concerned with the conflict between the individual and the state, the punishment of young criminals, and the possibility or otherwise of redemption. The linguistic originality of the book, and the moral questions it raises, are as relevant now as they ever were.

What is so special about A Clockwork Orange? ›

It is a masterpiece of filmmaking, with Kubrick's trademark style on full display. The acting is superb, and the film is visually stunning. It is also a thought-provoking story, with much to say about human nature, morality, and the government's role in society.

What so good about A Clockwork Orange? ›

Even the disturbing scenes aren't gratuitous and serve a purpose to the story. Every element—the costumes, dialogue, performances, cinematography, music, set design, and locations—is compelling. This is why fans and critics alike take the film so seriously.

What is the main point of A Clockwork Orange? ›

Throughout A Clockwork Orange, the film forces us to weigh the values and dangers of both individual liberty and state control, and consider how much liberty we're willing to give up for order, and how much order we're willing to give up for liberty.


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