The Boys who Saved the World tells the story of a sensitive 16-year-old schoolboy from a broken home, his indoctrination into a quasi-religious cult, and their subsequent kidnap of an apparently innocent girl.
Jon’s life is staid and suburban. His parents have split and he lives with his melancholic mother. At school, his isolation makes him vulnerable. He falls under the charismatic spell of another boy called Jeremiah, self-appointed leader of the Brotherhood of the religion of Hebetheus, which he claims will “correct the mistakes of past religions”.
The small band of schoolboys who make up the Brotherhood fixate on a fellow pupil, a girl they call SNAKE. Jeremiah claims he overheard a phone conversation during which she discussed a terrorist plot to bomb the school; for everyone’s safety she must be kidnapped and killed. Jon spends a tense evening preparing for the kidnap, leaving his mother distraught and suspicious.
The six members of the Brotherhood drive to a south London nightclub where Jeremiah chats up the girl, who is called Padma. Coaxing her outdoors, they bundle her into their van and take her to a remote cottage deep in rural Suffolk where they cuff her and lock her in the cellar.
The boys spend their days praying and preparing video messages for the police and media. During daily visits to the cellar to feed and ‘educate’ Padma in the ways of the Brotherhood, Jon remembers her as a childhood acquaintance and finds himself doubting Jeremiah’s allegations against her. She points out that she’s Hindu, not Muslim, and that Jeremiah has reasons to be jealous of her. Jeremiah scoffs at this when questioned, claiming Padma has already confessed to the bomb plot. Padma tells Jon that she only did so because Martyn, a heavy-handed member of the Brotherhood, threatened to rape her.
The Brotherhood’s pictures are on the evening news, where they are described as ‘terrorists’ and ‘religious extremists’. This enrages Jeremiah, sharpening his desire to see Padma killed.
Jon’s doubts grow. Jeremiah tells him that his initiation in to the Brotherhood will consist of the execution of Padma, which repels and terrifies him. He makes inchoate plans for his escape with Padma. On a trip into town to steal food and supplies, he calls Padma’s mother from a phone box. The raw fear in the woman’s voice touches him and he resolves to save Padma. The reality of the situation begins to torture him psychologically. He believes he loves Padma, who appears to have put all her trust in him.
An inquisitive neighbour comes knocking at the cottage and is taken hostage. However, they neglect to search her and she calls the police from her mobile. In panic, they take Padma and run. Sirens wail in the near distance.
Heading deep into the surrounding woods, they take refuge in a shack. Jeremiah becomes increasingly fervent and orders Jon to hang Padma. Jon recoils. Jeremiah sneers that Padma has fooled him – she’s duplicitous and the Brotherhood are his only true friends. Momentarily convinced, Jon sets out with Thomas, a quiet member of the Brotherhood, to find a suitable tree for the noose. Thomas tells Jon that he no longer believes in God or the Brotherhood; pretending to test the noose, he hangs himself.
Coming to his senses, Jon races back to the shack. Jeremiah knocks him out. When he comes to, he sees Padma hanging from the roof but not yet dead. He attempts to cut her down and violence breaks out among the five remaining members of the Brotherhood. Someone sets fire to the shack. The police arrive in the clearing. In panic, Jeremiah shoots one dead. Jon drags Padma from the burning shack and tries to bring her round. He is shot by the police and photographers surround him, snapping his picture. The ending remains open and ambiguous as to whether Jon dies or survives the bullet.