Moritz Mohr’s Boy Kills World, with its brutal violence, high-flying kicks and cruel comedy, has the German filmmaker aiming to change how you see his country’s movies.
“We wanted to make something that had some fun because Germany rarely has fun. There’s no action movies, there’s a few horror movies. It’s mostly art house,” Mohr says. Expect wicked fun, not an existential dirge, from Boy Kills World, as Mohr’s dry, sarcastic humor saturates a dystopian fever dream that follows Boy (Bill Skarsgård) a deaf mute with a vibrant imagination who escapes to the jungle when his family is murdered by a gang.
There, he’s trained by a mysterious shaman, (Yayan Ruhian) to suppress the child in him and become a strong, shrewd instrument of death to avenge his family and kill the gang leader.
Produced by Sam Raimi and Roy Lee and also starring Jessica Rothe and Brett Gelman, the hilarity of Mohr’s graphic novel-inspired fantasy springs from stylized hand-to-hand battles matching painstaking choreography with comic asides.
“There is violence, and it’s disgusting, but it always stays on the fun side of things,” Mohr insists of the grisly fight scenes, preceded by rigorous speed and strength training sequences for Boy.
Here the director credits his longtime collaborator Dawid Szatarski, the fight coordinator on Boy Kills World. As far back as 2016, the two set about to create a previsualization reel that caught the eye of Raimi and Lee.
With a nod to Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s Black Knight, who keeps fighting as his limbs are cut off one by one, Boy Kills World has one feisty combatant ripping his own arm off to keep battling. If anything, the audience for the German movie will see clues in choppy, stylized fight scenes as to whether a scene ought to be seen as serious or just insane fun.
In these, Mohr pays homage to Jackie Chan and Japanese anime as fight scene inspirations made even more complicated by no reliance on CG special effects. “You don’t have complete freedom. You actually have to jump somewhere with the camera or move the camera in a certain way to re-create that anime effect,” he says.
Where Mohr does get serious is when describing a seven-year emotional roller-coaster ride to get his movie shot in South Africa in February 2022 and then into Toronto for a festival launch. Showing Raimi and Lee the original proof-of-concept trailer for Boy Kills World in 2017 was a high point. “These great producers said, ‘We’re going to make your movie!’ I was a made man. I’m at the end of my journey,” Mohr recalls.
He wasn’t. Returning to Germany, the young director learned that Hollywood was all about hurrying up and waiting. “It took so much time. All right, the contracts are ready now. We can finally start writing. Then a year passes …” Mohr recounts.
After a couple more passes of the script, the feedback from the studio was that Boy Kills World was too cult film, not mainstream enough. “They just kicked us out. And I asked myself, ‘Is it over now? Is this just a dream?’ No. We’re going to find somebody else,” Mohr adds.
Another studio — Orion Pictures, a division of MGM — did come on board, but more time passed. Just when the conversation got around to casting, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“I was like, ‘What now? This is over? Are we done?’ ” Mohr remembers, before he endured another year of waiting that allowed the film to bring on indie producers as Orion bowed out. But just as preproduction kicked into gear in South Africa, the omicron variant reared up and forced scouting to end.
“There was a lot of buildup, disappointment. Buildup, disappointment. That was the whole journey,” says Mohr, adding that he’s become a “realist” about the film business. The determination paid off: Boy Kills World gets its world premiere Sept. 9 in Toronto as part of the Midnight Madness gorefest.