Action/Sci-Fi, 96 Minutes, 2015
Films have toyed with first person perspectives for decades, usually only in small doses. Thrillers show us what the killer sees while horror and sci-fi let us stalk the heroes through heavily filtered monster-vision. Heat-vision, night-vision, x-ray-vision, robot-vision and whatever-vision have all been simulated time and again. It’s an effective gimmick, but can it carry an entire film?
Found-footage movies come closest, and with moderate success, but aren’t truly “first person”. The 2015 no-budget horror film “P.O.V.” [my review] may be the first attempt at a feature-length film entirely in first person. It was surprisingly effective, yet its limited distribution ensured that it remains essentially unknown.
“Hardcore Henry” takes the same idea, moves to the action genre and adds a complete and total contempt for boundaries. Written and directed by Ilya Naishuller [IMDB], the film used technology developed by Sergey Valyaev [IMDB] and Vsevolod Kaptur [IMDB] for music video work. They convinced Sharlto Copley [IMDB], an actor that clearly enjoys a challenge, to join the cast. The entire thing was put together on a shoestring, mostly crowd-funded budget of two-million dollars.
As billed, the entire movie is viewed from the eyes of the main character, Henry. He’s awoken strapped to a table in a lab. His wife has brought him back from the dead and is repairing his dismembered body with cybernetics. He has no prior memories and can’t speak. Before he can orient himself, the lab is attacked by a psychokinetic super-villain (Danila Kozlovsky [IMDB]) straight out of the comics.
Henry’s wife is captured. He escapes with the help of Jimmy (Copley), an enigmatic Brit that embodies an entire collection of personalities, but has the unfortunate habit of dying. The plot and direction are straight out of a video game. Each segment of the movie has a specific goal, either a task or location, and each has a clear beginning and end.
Where video games with lengthy cut scenes are criticized for being too “movie-like”, this is a movie that lacks cut scenes. There is exposition, but it’s brief and delivered in the few quiet moments between gunshots. The story is a distant second to the action and all possible fat has been cut. Anything that doesn’t provide Henry with immediate motivation simply doesn’t exist.
The action is constant, unrelenting and has no regard for rules. It’s amazing. The violence is extremely graphic, but tempered by its cartoonish pacing and sensibilities. People are kicked, punched, shot, stabbed, set on fire, crushed, dropped from great heights and exploded; often at the same time. There are chases, both foot and car, and more acrobatics than most circus acts. The effects are straightforward, effective and ridiculously violent enough to spark regular laughter.
The movie unapologetically caters to hardcore action fans. Others may rightfully complain about the lack of traditional pacing, the gimmicky presentation or the general confusion. It’s a niche movie in all ways, but within that niche it’s something special.