“Hardcore Henry” should come with the warning: Don’t sit up front. Russian writer/director Ilya Naishuller warned the crowd Sunday night at SXSW that the rows upfront were designated as “the splash zone.” That’s because the film is shot entirely in first-person like a video game, except much faster… like ten times faster, and lots more blood and gore.
“Hardcore” has a very simple premise: Henry is tasked with saving his kidnapped wife (Haley Bennett), and to do that he has to survive an onslaught of car chases, knives, bullets, a tank, and a psychotic albino villain (Danila Kozlovsky) who has telekinetic powers bent on world domination. Not much more than that, and not a lot of room to develop the characters into something that resembles more than shallow substances that fly across the screen in droves of destroyed body parts riddled with bullets. That’s because the driving force of this film is action, and by action this goes far beyond “John Wick” or “The Raid 2.”
It’s filmed entirely from the first-person-point-of-view with body-mounted, wide-angle, GoPro mobile cameras, and likely the first of it’s kind to become a feature length film. Viewers will feel like they are in the film, and in the middle of the action. If you’re not careful you might catch yourself swaying, swerving, and jerking to avoid the intense action sequences that once they begin, don’t let up.
Henry awakes in a lab. A gorgeous woman in a lab coat, gently talks to him. You see what he sees, a leg that ends below the knee, and an arm that’s missing from the elbow down. At the same time you become aware of the missing limbs, the woman asks you questions, all the while calming and assuring you… notice I use the word “you” instead of Henry. At some point early on, the lines between actor/character Henry, and you, -the viewer become blurred. The more into it you are, the quicker it will happen. You will become part of Henry. Albeit you can’t control him, but because the entire film is shot from his point-of-view you can’t help but become him and that’s why this film is an experience. It’s also why you can’t use the regular criteria to judge it. Either you’re in for the experience or you’re not.
For some, fifteen minutes will be enough, maybe thirty because the story is mostly interesting in the beginning. You want to know what’s going on, and who is who because not a lot of information is given early on. What is given, is that Henry is part man, part machine, or is he? He’s married and part of some sort of experiment and BOOM… there you go, no more to keep it spoiler free. “Hardcore” plays like an adrenaline fueled roller coaster with non-stop action with hardly a moment to catch you breath. When the lights when down in the theater, one of the guests on stage said “don’t forget to breath.” That’s good advice.
“Hardcore Henry” is more of an experience than a film. Anyone versed with playing first person shooter games like Call of Duty will immediately identify with the film’s style and probably enjoy it, and rightly so. Those looking for a traditional film with a beginning, middle, end, and fully realized characters may not. The script is filled with witty and irreverent scenes set to high energy dance music.
Those familiar with the cult films “Day Watch” and “Night Watch” from Timur Bekmambetov who produces “Hardcore” will see aspects of his style in the film. “Hardcore” got it’s beginnings when Bekmambetov saw a music video from Naishuller online for his band Biting Elbows and felt like it would make for an interesting film.
“Hardcore Henry” is a film that plays more like an intense round of a video game run-through. The story moves along at such a frantic pace that there is no time for character development which in the end makes this feel more like an extended music video. However, the multiple incarnations of Jimmy (Sharlto Copley – District 9 and Chappie) add a lot dimension to the mostly one-off cast injecting humor into many of the scenes that add a comical element to the film and in the end redeem the film alongside the editing achievements that are cutting edge. Many of the sequences are one continuous shot, or are they? Longtime movie fans will enjoy the experience of this film, as long as they go in knowing there’s not a lot of substance.
The film scores an A for the experience, the technical achievement, the sound track, and it’s ability to pull me in. However, the experience “Hardcore Henry” delivers is by no means universal and may not translate well to mainstream audiences which is probably one of the reasons this will undoubtedly become a cult classic. See it on the big screen, and avoid the front rows to maximize the fun.
Rating: R (non-stop bloody brutal violence, debauchery and mayhem)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By: Ilya Naishuller
Written By: Ilya Naishuller
In Theaters: Apr 8, 2016 Wide
Runtime: 1 hr. 30 min.
– Official Site