Hardcore Henry, written and directed by Ilya Naishuller is like experiencing a video-game but without the controller in your hands. With elements like a protagonist that doesn’t speak, waypoints and objectives for him to get to and achieve, and even a final push to defeat an overwhelming amount of enemies before the culminating boss fight – Hardcore Henry fully embraces what it is. Now does it work? Does having an entire feature film take place in a first-person perspective translate to the big screen? Well let’s dive into all the ins-and-outs of the film and see.
The plot of Hardcore Henry is as thin as thin could be but in the grand scheme of things it kind of had to be. So we the audience see everything through the eyes of Henry. Henry is resurrected from the dead and is without his memory, and after being attacked by a sinister, telekinesis wielding bad guy, must fight to save his wife and defeat the endless hordes of henchman that come his way. I do want to stress that there is more to the story than this, and while it’s pretty cliché, it still helps hold together what is primarily a ball-busting action extravaganza (there may also be 1 or 2 surprises in how it all plays out).
So Hardcore Henry is one of those films that is all about the experience. I personally have never seen a film in the cinema like this and so was really interested to see what it would be like. Well at first it was completely jarring – watching a film that takes place entirely from a first-person perspective takes quite a bit of adjustment. When the first intensive action scene began, I was pretty unsure whether or not I would be able to last the whole film and it probably took 25 to 30 minutes for me to fully acclimate myself to it all – and for a film that is 96 minutes long, that might be too much for some people. I will add that no one in the screening I was in left, so there’s that.
But Hardcore Henry very much lives up to the beginning of its title, this film almost never takes a breather and it constantly moving. I found myself using the few times in which the film would cut to black as a chance to close my eyes and rest them for a second – this film is undoubtedly an assault on the senses. But once it got going again I would immediately re-open them and jump straight back into the madness. Side-bar – there were interestingly 1 or 2 occasions where my head or my legs would react to some of the things that were happening on-screen – a punch to the side of the head or a hit to the knee.
What soon became an interesting thing – especially when you consider the first-person perspective of the film – was the full-on violence. From the opening credits – which show faceless henchman being killed in increasingly more graphic ways – you know Hardcore Henry is going to be a film that doesn’t shy away from doing and showing it all. Coupled with the first-person perspective, the violence in the film took on a more extreme feeling – you certainly feel something when you see someone have their face grinded against stone or their arms snapped the wrong way. I didn’t expect the reaction I would have to some of the more violent instances in the film, but it certainly made for a more intensified experience.
So the film is certainly very visceral, and an experience unlike any other I’ve sat through in the cinema – that includes the good moments and the uncomfortable moments. I do feel I need some painkillers for my head after it all.
Now though, I have to get onto the biggest part of the film and that’s the action. The action in Hardcore Henry is an interesting one because while it is done really well from a stunt/technical aspect, it is let down quite a lot by it all being in first-person. I more often than not had no idea as to what exactly was going on in the action scenes. The first-person perspective means that a lot of it is a shaky, incoherent mess. There are a few moments that stand out as exciting, and really well done – a car chase or an assault on a helicopter that is dropping off more victims, but more often I was lost and a little head-woozy.
It’s a shame because I certainly had fun watching the intense, gory, unrelenting action sequences that the film continually throws at you, it’s just that the lack of stability in them made me lost, which would result in me losing concentration. Until of course it hit the accelerator again and blasted into some new and even crazier sequence. I flip back and forth on the action in this film, which I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Sometimes I smiled at the insanity and other times I felt overwhelmed by it all.
Something I wasn’t overwhelmed by and instead just loved, was the multiple performances by Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium, The A-Team etc.) Bouncing from a cocaine filled maniac to a WW2 British Army Corporal and so many more means that Copley delivers not one but many hilarious and well executed characters. He is also useful as he helps tie the madness of one scene to the other. Think of him as the character in a video-game that hands out quests and delivers the expository knowledge you need to understand your crazy situation – entertaining and helpful, now that’s a good combination right there.
Apart from Sharlto Copley the film isn’t really filled with any other standouts. There is the antagonist of the film, Akan – played by Danila Kozlovsky – but all you know about him is what is shown on-screen. He’s a bad guy with telekinetic powers, an extremely pale complexion and a want for a cyborg army that he can rule the world with – the film makes no effort to explain or develop him beyond that. It doesn’t even explain how he has telekinetic powers in a passing expository scene. Even the main character is given paper-thin development, but I guess that’s understandable given the design of the film.
The overall story in Hardcore Henry is also paper-thin – but there is something. What is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the films story is the fact that during it all, it is completely unengaging, but once the film is done, hindsight creeps in and you realise there was a hint of something compelling. The film doesn’t reach its potential with its overall story, I feel, but in the end it did it least make an attempt (make of that what you will).
Hardcore Henry is certainly an experience. Some may find it to overwhelming, whereas others may find it to be the next step in filmmaking. Either way this is certainly a film you won’t be able to understand until you’ve seen it yourself.
I’m going to recommend Hardcore Henry. Now I should say that I’m primarily recommending it because of what it is like to sit there and watch. This film does have a lot of failings, but I think this film is more about the experimental idea rather than the film itself. So perhaps consider that before seeing it.
So did Hardcore Henry give you a headache like it did me? Let me know your thoughts on the film/review in the comments down below. If you’d like to keep up to date with the rest of my ramblings you could either follow this blog directly or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle. Last but never least have a joyous week.