A deaf-mute young man swears revenge on the group that murdered his family in Moritz Mohr's bloodthirsty but tedious directorial debut.
Violence is upsetting only until it becomes funny; Looney Tunes teaches us this, that going far enough over the top removes the element of realism that gives acts of physical harm their power. Slitting someone’s throat can be gruesome, but bashing someone over the head with a mallet so their teeth all stick out like piano keys — now there’s comedy.
But the corollary secret to Bugs and Daffy’s success was the childlike innocence to their mischief, a comic-strip simplicity in gags seldom more mature or involved than your given knock-knock joke. And if Looney Tunes works because it thinks the way a kid does, then the comparably slap-happy Boy Kills World fails because it has the mentality of a fourteen-year-old boy coming off a three-day, Mountain Dew-fueled Xbox bender.
From the opening exposition introducing dictatrix Hilda ven der Koy (Famke Janssen) as a “bitch” in need of elimination to the utterances of such amateur-hour profanities as “fuckpuppet” and “shitweasel,” a brutalizing lack of wit makes a slog out of a beat-‘em-up that aspires to a non-stop barrage of bone-breaking gutbusters. (There’s also a touch of Whedonspeak dropped into this dialect of uncoolness.) For all its creativity about the different ways limbs can made to bend, the script faceplants in its dull quasi-adolescent sensibility that pairs the juvenile affinity for sugary cereals and Mortal Kombat with a more gratingly sophomoric stuntedness in humor. One imagines Deadpool looking down at his own hands in impotent horror, Oppenheimer-style, reckoning with what he hath wrought.
Our unnamed deaf-mute protagonist (Bill Skarsgård, his arms like rocket launchers) can communicate only in internal monologue voiceover that, despite the many tribulations he’s survived since the reigning junta killed his family, has the same oblivious cheerfulness as the puppy Will Ferrell voiced in last month’s Strays. And this Boy is a good dog indeed; from his older Asian mentor complicating a South African setting with a staunch refusal to consider its depiction of fascism relative to race, he’s learned to sit, stay, and make dead.
He’s got to fight through the royal stronghold on the night of the ruling family’s latest “culling,” working his way from one level to the next in a video game structure the script acknowledges with unclever mention of a “final boss.” The least tiresome passages come during these long arias of savagery, with Tilt-a-Whirl cinematography rushing to catch every laceration and headshot. State-of-the-art fight choreography, as well as a resourceful spirit that sees every prop as a potential weapon, have both been squandered in an otherwise repellent, paper-thin plotline building to a nonsensical twist.
First-time director Moritz Mohr made an unmistakable calling card feature, proving beyond reproach his skill as an orchestrator and stylist of action, though he’s most well-suited to the uppermost echelons of today’s Hollywood in his total disregard for story beyond its capacity to cue up empty bombast. That’s how a film with barely any plot balloons to an unaccountable run time of nearly two hours, as it piles on one display of hollow technical virtuosity after the next with no concern for wearing out its welcome.
Published 18 Sep 2023
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