Movie Review: Hardcore Henry (2016)
“First they made him dangerous. Then they made him mad.”
Hardcore Henry (2016)
Director: Ilya Naishuller
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Tim Roth, Haley Bennett
Synopsis: An experimental first person movie in which a man revived from near-death goes on the run from a telekinetic warlord.
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There had been no successful first-person movie until The Blair Witch Project kick-started the found-footage horror sub-genre – and, because the action in found-footage movies is sometimes captured by more than one character, they’re really just the close cousins of the first-person movie. George Montgomery experimented with first-person in The Lady of the Lake, his 1947 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe pulp novel, but it was a clumsy effort which found favour with neither audiences nor critics. This might explain why almost seventy years have passed since someone worked up the nerve to have another go and, perhaps unsurprisingly, that someone was a first-time filmmaker. In an era in which creatively bankrupt Hollywood majors have begun plundering video games for inspiration (and a pre-existing fan base), it’s also no surprise that Ilya Naishuller’s ultra-violent first-person experiment, Hardcore Henry is more like a video game than a movie. Ironically, rather than making us feel like we’re submerged in the action, it feels more like we’re prevented from joining in because someone else is monopolising the console.
The eye-catching opening credits provide plentiful warning of the orgy of violence that is to follow by treating us to a selection of slow-motion close-ups showing the damage inflicted on the human body by fists, knives and bullets. What plot there is feels like a necessary inconvenience and shares the same depth and complexity as those found in the first-person shooters from which it draws its inspiration. The title character, a man near death revived with robotic transplants that offer him a measure of defence against the small army of a villain (Danila Koslovsky) who seeks the technology used on him in order to create an army of his own, goes on the run and is aided in his flight by a mysterious Englishman named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley – Open Grave, Oldboy), who appears to possess the power of reincarnation as, every time he is killed, he returns in another incarnation.
Henry has to flee from the lab in which he was revived before his speech module can be activated, which usefully solves the problem of the first-person illusion being shattered by some disembodied voice speaking for us. Fists, knives, bullets and various other missiles hurtle towards the screen, and assailants are despatched with violent abandon. It’s all quite exhilarating for five minutes or so, but, once the initial impact wears off, the repetitive scenes of carnage grow increasingly monotonous, and Copley’s over-the-top performance (including a surreal rendition of I’ve Got You Under My Skin), coupled with his fake English accent quickly begins to irritate. Brimming with energy, and technically impressive, Hardcore Henry would have made a terrific short movie; as a feature, though, you’ll probably want to get off the ride long before it’s over.
(Reviewed 5th August 2016)