Photo via STX Entertainment
Oftentimes with gimmicky films, (“The Blair Witch Project” and “Gravity” to name a couple) the gimmick is such a selling point that the filmmakers put all their creative effort into squeezing as much juice out of it as they can. The results can be spectacular. Yet, when audiences sit down to watch it a second time, the magic tends to wear off. Enter Henry, “Hardcore Henry” to be exact—the first film almost entirely filmed with GoPro cameras and is also Ilya Naishuller’s directorial debut. Gimmicky as it might be, “Hardcore Henry” might be one of the most exhilarating action movies to hit theaters this decade.
Sharlto Copley stars in Hardcore Henry.
Let me paint you a picture: a man wakes up without one of his legs, one of his arms, his voice or even his memory. He gets suited up with mechanical appendages and then proceeds to spend the next 85 minutes fighting relentless waves of enemies as he tries to rescue his wife from a dastardly foe with telekinesis who plans to build a cyborg army and take over the world. Oh, and all of this is shot entirely from Henry’s perspective as the audience experiences what is essentially a video game on steroids.
Over-the-top, brutal, wickedly funny and stupidly ludicrous, “Hardcore Henry” starts off on a intense note and only increases in intensity until nearly reaching a point of sheer cinematic absurdity. One can really feel just how much fun the filmmakers had making it; there is katana-wielding biker assassins, flamethrower-toting behemoths, insane car-chases, an endless arsenal of deadly weapons and enough gore and broken bones to make even the most desensitized person squirm in their seat. Talk about an engaging work environment.
Actually, over the top doesn’t even cut it; this is a whole ‘nother realm of insane.
Since Henry has no voice, there really isn’t much to say in terms of his character. Still, a wicked performance from “District 9’s” Sharlto Copley (who plays about a dozen different characters in the film, each with their own personality) is one of the biggest highlights. His character—who isn’t explained until near the end of the film which may lead to some head scratching as he frequently appears—meets a horribly funny end and then reappears moments later as an entirely different character. Some of the most hysterical lines come from his many personas, which range from a punk rocker to a Tony Montana-esque coke-head.
As with most films that employ more visceral cinematography (“Cloverfield,” “The Hunger Games”) the camera’s relentless shaking and spinning might stir some stomachs. That doesn’t mean queasiness is guaranteed, but it’s happened enough that theaters are now posting signs warning potential goers of the film’s nauseating qualities. I left with a minor headache–akin to that feeling one gets for looking down for too long in the car—others have left midway through to expel some unpleasantness: but that slight discomfort is more than worth it for this thrill ride.
The reason why “Hardcore Henry” succeeds is because it has a clear vision. It never forgets what it is and never tries to be anything it isn’t. The story is barebones yet functional while the action unrelentingly delivers from start to finish. If I had one gripe it would be that I found myself angry with the story—not because it was bad or boring, but because I simply wanted to get back to the glorious, ludicrous action. Whether or not this has lasting power is up in the air, but for the time being, I will say now—even in April—this is the best action movie you will see all year.
Scott may be reached at [email protected]