By this point, Hardcore Henry should need no introduction. But if you’ve somehow missed the high octane trailers, then all you really need to know is that the titular character wakes up to find that he’s been revived from the dead by his wife, and she’s given him a number of bio-mechanical enhancements. Which is great, because within minutes she’s kidnapped by a powerful warlord and his mercenaries, and thus begins the adrenalin fueled non-stop action ride to retrieve her. Or, maybe I should say YOU begin your journey to save her, because this marks the world’s first feature length POV shot film, and we see everything through Henry’s eyes.
First time feature director Ilya Naishuller teamed up with visionary producer Timur Bekmambetov to expand upon the concept first seen in his short Bad Motherfucker. The collaboration results in one of the most technically difficult and impressive action films ever. Using GoPro cameras to capture a first person POV seems like a given, but it also undermines just how much technical work went into keeping the camera stable for fluid action sequences. That’s not to say things never get chaotic on screen, but it isn’t the beginning-to-end motion sickness inducing mess that you’d think it’d be.
It’d be difficult to not draw comparisons to video games, as sometimes you feel as though that’s precisely what you’re watching. It’s never ending for Henry, one objective after the next, fight and gun battle with few brief moments to catch your breath. Video game levels of gore and violence. Heads exploding, jugulars squirting blood, and fists flying is a regular occurrence. The word gimmicky might cross your mind on occasion, too. It doesn’t help that there’s really not much depth to the story at all, it’s pretty simple and sometimes silly.
Yet, Beckmambetov and Naishuller ground Henry’s journey with humor. A lot of humor. The humor gives our hero a personality when we can’t even see his face, and gives viewers something to grab onto during the warped speed thrill-ride. Henry doesn’t speak, though, so his personality shines through with camera movement and hand gestures. Lucky for us, Henry gains an ally in Jimmy, played most impressively by Shalto Copley.
Though the film is titled after Henry, it’s Copley’s face that we see on screen the most. Copley stated at the SXSW premiere that the role of Jimmy was the most difficult performance of his yet. His role is perhaps the most physically demanding role in the entire feature, in an already extremely physically demanding film, and much of the humor and emotional depth comes from his character. While Henry is the audience’s proxy, Jimmy is the emotional anchor. Copley’s performance alone would make the film something special.
Is it horror? Not at all. But it’s pure fun and extreme levels of blood, guts, and violence is something genre fans can appreciate. It’s a complete blast and innovative filmmaking. It often feels like a live-action video game, and can at times be too frenetic to fully process what you’re seeing. I’m not sure it bears repeat viewings, but it is a film meant to be experienced in theaters. This is a film that should be witnessed with the masses. It’s pure, thrilling entertainment. Just not much else.
Hardcore Henry is releasing in theaters April 8th, 2016.
Hardcore Henry [SXSW Review]
The first POV style action film brings the high-octane action so fast that you’ll hardly have time to catch your breath. Equal parts humorous and violent, but nearly devoid of story.