BUCKLE up and hold on tight for this ultra-violent video game pastiche that promises gore, gags and something genuinely original, if a little rough around the edges.
We, the audience, are Henry. Quite literally. We only see events through his eyes. If you’re a fan of first person shooter video games like Call of Duty or Far Cry or have seen British sitcom series Peep Show – or even Cloverfield, which adopts a similar-ish approach – then you’ll already be familiar with the format, but even then it’ll take a bit of getting used to. If you’re not familiar with it, then you’ll either love this or loathe it.
Writer/director Ilya Naishuller first began using the POV (point of view) style when directing music videos for Russian indie rock group the Biting Elbows, of which he is the lead singer (some of their music features on the soundtrack), but this has to be the first time it has ever been exclusively employed in the making of a feature-length film set for worldwide cinematic release.
There’s no letting up on the action as Henry (uncredited), a cyborg with no memory, is suddenly awoken by Estelle (Hayley Bennet – Marley & Me, The Equalizer) who claims to be his wife. She helps restore his dismembered body back to fighting fitness. Well, everything except the vocal chords, leaving Henry mute throughout the film and only able to communicate through vigorous nods and shakes, effusive hand gestures or guns and grenades.
Right from the get-go we’re thrown into the thick of it with one of the most exhilarating action set-pieces committed to celluloid that includes Henry and his wife being jettisoned from their sky lab and plummeting earth-ward after the facility is attacked by telekinetic albino super villain Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). It’s the perfect introduction to the central characters, the story and the viewing mechanics of the POV style. Much like the cinematic opening sequences on most modern video games, it sets the mood and entices us in, all while letting us get our bearings. Bioshock Infinite’s opening lighthouse sequence springs to mind.
The rest of the movie sees a confused and increasingly violent Henry tear through Moscow on the run from Akan’s men, a great many of whom meet a grisly end at his hands (we’re talking Tarrantino levels of violence), while being guided by the oddly omniscient Jimmy, played by the brilliant Sharlto Copley (District 9, Chappie, Elysium). Copley seems to take on any unflattering role with gusto, positively revelling in the ugliness of it all. Here his natural comic abilities mean he’s able to deliver the humour that reminds us what we’re seeing is meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
Hardcore Henry is far from excellent. It’s a low-budget outing and it shows. The storyline is thin, placing emphasis on unpalliated and often unpalatable violence. There’s not enough exploration of the POV style for my liking – if you’re going to do something original why not really push the boat out? – and its annoying not to find out who Henry is given that we’re in the unusual position as an audience of actually being him, as it were.
That said, Hardcore Henry is a non-stop, heart-pounding action movie with a brilliant concept at its heart that writes a new move in the director’s playbook. It should be praised for bringing something entirely unique and unrivalled to cinema and actually pulling it off.
Final word: This highly original movie is about as hardcore as it gets when it comes to violently dispatching hordes of enemies, but it does it with a humour that abates the bloodlust (somewhat) and in a style that is unlike anything seen before on the movie screen.
If you liked Hardcore Henry you might also like:
- District 9