Boy Kills World – A Hyper-Kinetic Classic Revenge Tale

Channeling the hyper-kinetic thrill of classic video games in a visually dazzling, nonstop battle royale, Boy Kills World is directed by Mohr from a script by Tyler Burton Smith (Kung Fury 2, Child’s Play) and Arend Remmers (Snowflake, “Oderbruch”).

Sharlto Copley with director Moritz Mohr during the filming of Boy Kills World. © 2024 BOY KILLS WORLD RIGHTS, LLC. ALL’ RIGHTS RESERVED

Szatarski’s expertise in Southeast Asian martial arts has made him an in-demand fight choreographer and stunt performer whose credits include Black Widow and Kingsman: The Golden Circle. For him, Boy Kills World was an opportunity to expand into uncharted territory. “Moritz’s talent for creating weird and dangerous worlds allowed me to plan some spectacular stunts, things that I had imagined, but never seen,” he says. “Things that I hope will astound the audience.”

The pair, along with screenwriter Arend Remmers, produced a five-minute proof-of-concept film for about $20,000. It starred Szatarski as a deaf and mute orphan trained from childhood to become an instrument of bloody revenge. Shortly thereafter, Mohr arrived in Los Angeles to pitch their movie. One of his first meetings was with Stuart Manashil, a Hollywood manager who would become a producer on the feature version.  

Impressed by the short film, Manashil introduced Mohr to Roy Lee, the prolific producer behind the Grudge franchise and Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning The Departed, as well as scores of other blockbusters. Lee suggested setting up a meeting with legendary producer and director Sam Raimi. 

After watching the five-minute teaser, Raimi instantly recognized Mohr’s natural talent, and signed on to produce the film through his production company. “Moritz has a great sense of humor,” says the SpiderMan franchise director. “More importantly, he has an innate sense of what a film needs. He is a master of the camera, he gets phenomenal performances from actors, he’s got a wonderful visual style and he knows how to tell a story.” 

Producer Zainab Azizi of Raimi Productions says she was impressed by the humor and heart of the story, as well as the originality of the characters. Working with CAA Media Finance, they decided to fund the film independently, a first for the company. “We’re used to working with a studio and all the infrastructure they provide,” she says. “It was a risk and one that turned out really well for us. I don’t think a studio would have allowed us to be as creatively bold and daring as we have been.”

Several producers took an interest at that point, including Alex Lebovici, founder of Hammerstone Studios. “Boy Kills World is completely novel and innovative,” he says. “We brought in Tyler Burton Smith to polish the dialogue and refine the structure. His draft drew more attention throughout the entertainment community.”

Nthibah Pictures, the U.S. and South African production and finance company founded by venture capitalist Wayne Fitzjohn, and joined by longtime studio executive Simon Swart, also came on board and took the lead on the project.  Understanding the risk and magnitude involved, they jumped in and pulled the entire production together from casting to location to building elaborate sets. With Nthibah’s extensive local and international production capabilities, they were able to create an entire dystopian world right in the middle of one of the busiest cities in South Africa – all while managing the restrictions and workplace safety protocols of a global pandemic.

Fitzjohn says the film fits the company’s mission to avoid anything formulaic. “Boy Kills World is an enthralling story. It’s R-rated and it oozes humor and gore! While some may think this is an unusual direction for Nthibah to go, we don’t think so.  We read it, we loved it, and we acquired it and that is very much the Nthibah way to me.”

Swart describes the film as fresh, audacious and aggressive. “We were trying to push the creative envelope with action, stunts, and humor. We knew that if we could execute it right, it would be one of the coolest movies ever shot in South Africa,” he says. “Our goal is to make content that’ll work worldwide. This movie is perfect for an international audience in terms of story and casting. It’s not like anything we’ve done before, but then it’s not like anything anyone has done before.”

Multiple forms of martial arts, bare-knuckle combat, state-of-the-art weaponry and even a cheese grater come into play in the gravity-defying action, wall-to-wall carnage and elegantly original set pieces Szatarski designed for Boy Kills World. “Dave is a madman and creative as hell,” says Mohr. “The way he approached the film was as a super-fan of martial arts, which he is. And I think the results speak for themselves.” 

Bill Skarsgård in Boy Kills World. © 2024 BOY KILLS WORLD RIGHTS, LLC. ALL’ RIGHTS RESERVED

Boy Kills World takes the martial arts-action genre to a new level, according to Raimi. “What sets this film apart is a combination of Moritz’s brilliant, insane camera work and Dawid’s beautifully choreographed, wildly imagined fights,” he says. “It is amazing to watch.”

After waiting almost six years to see his ideas come to fruition, Mohr says it’s hard to believe it’s happened. “I’ve waited so long for this moment. Every now and then, it hits me that I’ve basically checked one of my life’s biggest dreams off the list. I can’t wait for an audience to see it. It is an action comedy, which is pretty clear, but Boy Kills World is a bit of an upside-down fairy tale set in a world with surprises everywhere.” 

While the film’s protagonist starts off as an angry boy who just wants revenge, his journey transforms him, notes Azizi. “It’s got great action and funny comedy bits, but it’s also got this wonderful relationship between Boy and his sister that has never ended, even years after her death. The lengths a person will go to for the people they love can be unexpected.” 

All of the participants in the film were drawn in by Mohr and Szatarski’s remarkable premise, says Lebovici. “As producers, we challenged them to elevate it, but we didn’t necessarily expect them to deliver a revolutionary film like this. I think it’s safe to say we’re very proud of what we’ve all accomplished here.”

While Mohr was on set, he says there was little time for anything but figuring out how to finish the next task. “All the department heads got on board with the initial vision, expanded on it and made it their own,” he adds. “I’m blown away by the images we got and how every department was dedicated to making that happen. The big myth in moviemaking is that there has to be a crazy puppet-master controlling everything. All I had to do was surround myself with incredibly talented people and give them the room to do their best work.” 

In an unnamed postapocalyptic dynasty, the tyrannical Van Der Koy clan rules with brutal efficiency. Led by matriarch Hilda (Famke Janssen, X-Men), the family exacts terrifying punishment on anyone who dissents. Each year, their heavily armed military hunts down their enemies for the Culling: a brutal public ritual in which helpless citizens are slaughtered in a televised extravaganza. After the deranged matriarch leaves Boy (Bill Skarsgård) orphaned, deaf and voiceless, he is driven by his inner voice, one which he co-opted from his favorite childhood video game, Boy trains with a mysterious shaman (Yayan Ruhian) to become an instrument of death and is set loose on the eve of the annual culling of dissidents. Bedlam ensues as Boy commits bloody martial arts mayhem, inciting a wrath of carnage and blood-letting. As he tries to get his bearings in this delirious realm, Boy soon falls in with a desperate resistance group, all the while bickering with the apparent ghost of his rebellious little sister.

The film’s protagonist, known only as Boy, has been spirited away to a remote location by a mystery man, the Shaman, after the vicious Van Der Koy family murdered his mother and sister and tried to kill him. The child grows up in isolation in a primitive jungle enclave, unable to speak to or hear anyone but the ghost of his younger sister. Subjecting him to a punishing regimen of martial arts training and drug-induced rituals, his rescuer systematically indoctrinates Boy to become an instrument of revenge.

Bill Skarsgård in Boy Kills World. © 2024 BOY KILLS WORLD RIGHTS, LLC. ALL’ RIGHTS RESERVED

 After meeting with some of Hollywood’s top young actors, the filmmakers selected Bill Skarsgård, who wowed audiences with a splashy turn as Pennywise, the malevolent clown in Stephen King’s terrifying It, to play Boy. “This was one of the better scripts I’ve read,” he says. “It’s an entertaining thrill ride with a unique tone and story. It’s very funny at times, but then it surprises you with a nuanced and emotional journey. The movie is told through Boy’s eyes, which brings home the tragic elements. His entire life has been about destruction.”  

Skarsgård’s ability to communicate without words reminded Azizi of the great silent film stars. “You feel like you understand exactly what he is thinking at all times,” she says. “The difference is that there is something frightening in his eyes.”

The actor made a dramatic transformation for the role, losing 20 pounds and building a lean and sinewy physique. “I also had to learn to fight from the ground up,” he recounts. “It was a very short amount of time to do all that. I worked many hours just learning the basics. I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I watched a lot of martial arts movies to prepare.”              

Yayan Ruhian, who plays the Shaman, is one of the world’s foremost practitioners of the Indonesian fighting form pencak silat. He came to prominence internationally in the hyper-violent action thriller The Raid and has gone on to appear in films including Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and is himself a highly regarded fight choreographer. 

Yayan Ruhian in Boy Kills World. © 2024 BOY KILLS WORLD RIGHTS, LLC. ALL’ RIGHTS RESERVED

“Moritz and I are both martial arts geeks,” Szatarski says. “I’ve known of Yayan for a very long time, even before The Raid made him a global star. I watched his DVD tutorials years ago. We always knew we wanted him to play the part, because he’s not only an accomplished martial artist, he knows how to perform for the camera. I got goosebumps when he told me he’d never seen some of the things we did in the movie. That was a big honor for me.”

Powerful female villains wield great influence in Boy Kills World, and the most powerful and villainous of them all is Hilda Van Der Koy, played by Famke Janssen. She runs her empire with an iron fist, maintaining control of the population through violence and terror, including the annual Culling, during which people who have displeased her are mercilessly slaughtered on live television. Janssen admits she initially found the film’s graphic violence somewhat shocking. “But as I read the script over again, I realized that it’s never gratuitous,” she says. “The story has an Orwellian 1984 feel to it. The Van Der Koy family is trying to control every aspect of this society through fear and force. That seemed very familiar given the world we live in today.” 

Famke Janssen in Boy Kills World. © 2024 BOY KILLS WORLD RIGHTS, LLC. ALL’ RIGHTS RESERVED

Domineering, sadistic and cruel, Hilda is, as Janssen says, “a piece of work.” “Tyler created an intense and fascinating character. I was fortunate to be able to collaborate with him to go deeper into the heart of who she is and what drives her to become a woman who ends up in a bunker for 15 years thinking about nothing but revenge.” The actress adds that Boy Kills World stands out in its genre for its portrayal of formidable women. “There’s June27, an assassin who is Boy’s main adversary. And Hilda’s sister Melanie is just as twisted as she is. They all remind me of movies of the 1930s, when female characters could be quirky and strong and vulnerable and a range of other things all at the same time.”

Michelle Dockery has come far since making international waves as “Downton Abbey’s” icy and imperious Lady Mary Crawley. In Boy Kills World, Dockery is Melanie Van Der Koy, a scheming sociopath who acts as the family’s media liaison. “She is absolutely awful, which makes her so much fun,” says Dockery. “The script was like nothing I’d ever read. It has all the tropes of a classic revenge story, but there is something so unique about it in its humor.” 

Sharlto Copley in Boy Kills World. © 2024 BOY KILLS WORLD RIGHTS, LLC. ALL’ RIGHTS RESERVED

South African actor Sharlto Copley plays Melanie’s husband Glen, a television presenter who presides over the annual Culling event. “Glen is the public face of the Van Der Koy family,” says Copley, perhaps best known as the star of the acclaimed indie sci-fi hit District 9. “He is on all the posters. He’s just not as good at his job as he probably should be.”  

The marriage between Melanie and Glen is primarily a matter of convenience, according to Dockery. “He is the ringmaster and the public loves him,” she notes. “He is important to her ⎯ at least in a business sense.”

Copley says his first thought upon reading Boy Kills World was how a film this ambitious and inventive could possibly be achieved given the tight production schedule. “I liked the character and I responded to the short, but this is really edgy stuff,” he says. “It was kind of a ballsy thing to do.” 

Finding multiple settings including a remote jungle, a luxurious palace worthy of an empress, a humble village marketplace and a snow-covered backdrop for the chaotic carnage of the Culling all in one place was unlikely, production designer Mike Berg initially thought. But find them he did, entirely in Cape Town, South Africa. The country was chosen in part because the American dollar goes much further there, but also because South Africa has one of the most ambitious film industries in the world, with skilled crews and expert craftspeople. 

Berg’s production design is one of the highlights of the film for Azizi. “He invented this gigantic dystopian world from scratch,” she says. “Every set is unique: a beautiful blend of multiple cultures, incredible design and colorful chaos.”   

When the designer first read the script, he wasn’t sure what direction to take, Berg remembers. “It was insanity, it was hilarious and it was going to be challenging. We decided to cross-pollinate between a number of cultures, especially in the village, the marketplace and resistance headquarters. We’ve created a multicultural, multilingual environment with signs in languages including Chinese, Swahili, Russian, English and Afrikaans.”  

 Berg found the jungle setting for the Shaman’s hut virtually on his doorstep. About 10 minutes outside of Cape Town, there are 65 acres of wilderness that proved perfect for the Shaman’s remote hideout. “It’s one of the most important settings in the film,” the designer notes. “Boy is basically trapped, so the design is based on a spider web. The hut itself is the body of the arachnid and then we added vines made of rope and silicon and Spanish moss to represent the legs.” 

For the lavish Van Der Koy palace, the design team began with the Rhodes House, a historic colonial mansion once owned by the South African politician Cecil Rhodes. To customize it for a family of predators, Berg filled it with taxidermy lions and cheetahs, as well as large-scale images of Medusas and other fearsome creatures. A family crest was created. “I started looking for images of things that represent death, and flowers kept popping up,” he says. “We used a very soft, beautiful flower on the crest, which we then put everywhere, including the military uniforms, as a subtle reminder of who the Van Der Koys are.”

For the Winter Wonderland Culling theater, the setting for what Melanie Van Der Koy refers to as “mass murder by cartoon cereal mascots,” Berg designed a charming snow-covered hillside dotted with brightly colored cottages, abstract mountains and trees seemingly out of a children’s book ⎯ until it becomes the site of a blood-soaked massacre. “We wanted snow because blood on snow is really dramatic. The soldiers are dressed in glittery pink uniforms, slashing everything in their paths, along with costumed characters including an octopus, a pineapple, a sea captain and some polar bears and penguins. It’s absolute madness! I can honestly say, I’ve never done anything like it before.”  

MORITZ MOHR (Director, Executive Producer) hails from Berlin and this is his debut feature as a director. Mohr is known for helming high-stakes thrillers infused with sharp comedy and stylized visuals, as seen in his award-winning short films Akumi (2005) and Vidiots (2006) as well as the web series “Viva Berlin!” (2011). Mohr studied film at Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg and initially gained experience directing for commercials.

TYLER BURTON SMITH (Writer) is a screenwriter known for his playfully dark humor and genre-mashing sensibilities. He has helped craft the stories for such critically acclaimed video games as “Alan Wake 2,” “Quantum Break” and “Sleeping Dogs.” In addition to writing the successful Child’s Play remake starring Aubrey Plaza, Smith is the creator of the hit Image Comics graphic novel “Slumber.” Up next for the writer is Kung Fury 2, a feature adaptation of the popular 2015 short film.

AREND REMMERS (Writer) recently served as the creator and head writer for the supernatural crime series “Oderbruch,” which garnered both widespread viewership and critical acclaim upon its German airing in January 2024. Remmers embarked on his screenwriting career in Berlin, making waves with the award-winning dark comedy Snowflake (2014). Since then Remmers has maintained a prolific output, contributing to a diverse array of German features such as Our Time Is Now and Dreamfactory, as well as the hit TV series “Dogs of Berlin” (Netflix), “Sløborn” (ZDF) and “Ze Network” (RTL+).