Released in cinemas 2016 Hardcore Henry is the directing debut of Ilya Naishuller and uniquely, is shot completely from the first person perspective. The film was made in 2015 and after being premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of that year under the title Hardcore, it was purchased by STX Entertainment who renamed it Hardcore Henry for international release. Of the cast the only one you may recognise is Sharlto Copley, the south African guy from District 9 and the only reason to watch the recent A-Team film. With the exception of a cameo by Tim Roth I did not recognise anyone else in the film.
This is a film that I knew absolutely nothing about when I went with a couple of my skin sacks friends to see it. I had been told that it was going to be shot completely from the perspective of the protagonist, and I wasn’t sure if this was going to work as a concept. But having said that, easily the best bit in the Doom film was a sequence in which we had a gun at the front of the camera and was shot from the first person…the thing is could this work for an entire film??
I’ll get to that obviously but first let’s take a look at the what is going on…
The film opens with a man named Henry being told he has been brought back from the dead and is now a half-human half-machine hybrid. A scientist named Estelle (Haley Bennett) replaced his left arm and leg, and she also claims to be his wife. She tells him that he has amnesia and before she can activate his voice system the facility is attacked by a telekinetic named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) and his mercenaries. Henry and Estelle flee the facility which is onboard a zeppelin, but moments after they land they are separated when Estelle is abducted, and Henry is rescued by a man named Jimmy (Copley)
Jimmy tells him that his robotic parts are running out of power and he needs to recharge. Two corrupt cops murder Jimmy forcing Henry to run, moments later Jimmy reappears unharmed, and guides him to an associate of Akan that has a device Henry can use to recharge himself.
As Henry struggles to uncover what is happening he must face off against the armies of mercenaries under Akan’s control, plus the powerful telekinetic himself as he tries to rescue his wife.
So…the entire film is shot from the perspective of Henry, a protagonist who cannot speak, and who’s face we only glimpse at the very end of the film. Personally I found the style interesting if a little bit hard to follow during some of the more intense sequences, but I suffered no ill effects. However, my skin sack’s friend Gary (the same Gary who loaned me Aliens Colonial Marines) would turn away from the screen every once in a while because he was getting motion sickness. Naturally my mighty alien brain made me immune to such a problem but for you fragile humans motion sickness might be an issue.
That aside the film is a real achievement with Copley as usual being a highlight, I can’t honestly think of anything that he has been in, in which he wasn’t the best thing in it. He stars as “Jimmy” but he plays multiple versions of him, I am really trying not to spoil anything and the reason for this is pretty clever. It demonstrates Copley’s acting ability as he gives each version of Jimmy a different personality plus the sequence when “I’ve got you under my skin” is playing just shows how versatile an actor Copley is.
Henry himself is not actually portrayed by one actor, during the film he is played by more than ten different actors and stuntmen including director Ilya Naishuller and Andrei Dementiev who also portrays Slick Dmitry. The transition is seamless so you are never aware when you are watching a different actor and as far as I was aware the protagonist was being portrayed by the same person throughout the film.
The story is perhaps a little generic and has been done time and time again in video games, waking up with amnesia is the bread and butter of most survival horror games, and like a number of games when a character is introduced that we have no connection to we are not invested in them. In Dragon Age Origins if you play as a mage you have the option of helping or turning in Jared, a man who has been training with you at The Circle for years, but because we have not seen any of their history you feel absolutely nothing if you turn him in to the authorities. In Hardcore Henry Estelle says she is Henry’s wife but because we have no history with her the motivation for going after her so aggressively is a little weak. If Henry started having memories of his life with her during the film it would have made more sense but we don’t get that. The ending does go a long way to explaining this but if I don’t have any connection to someone then I would have no reason to go after them
Some of the questions the film answers but one of the big ones goes unanswered. Akan is a telekinetic but how did he get his powers??? The film doesn’t tell you, he simply shows up, starts throwing things around and killing other scientists before Henry and Estelle escape. In the final battle he throws Henry around a bit but doesn’t use his powers to just rip Henry limb from limb. It is always an issue when you have someone that is established as being very powerful because basically Henry is no better equipped to fight Akan at the end than he was at the beginning, Henry hasn’t become more powerful, or learned of some weakness Akan has, he just keeps going for him and eventually manages to overpower him.
The film is very violent and we see every blood soaked moment through the eyes of our protagonist, but this isn’t just an excuse for lots of excessive gore, it is surprisingly quite clever on occasion. But if you aren’t a fan of blood and violence then you are not going to enjoy this…for fans of action films though this is a must-see.
As concepts go, doing a film entirely from the first person, who isn’t holding a camcorder like Cloverfield, might have bombed big time, but it works surprisingly well. Yes if you are susceptible to motion sickness then you might struggle but for the rest of us this film is unique. The action flows well, the story is entertaining, Copley is a joy, and whilst there are a couple of issues this is a great piece of filmmaking.
Hardcore Henry is getting a Thumbs Up from me because as of right now this is the only film that has been done using this style. If sequels follow then I don’t know how they will stand up once the 1st person perspective is no longer unique and original.
8/10 – If Hardcore Henry had been shot using traditional film making techniques it would have been a decent action film with a great performance from Copley. But the way it has been made is so creative and unique that it pulls the film up and makes it a must-see for any action fans or those who like to see filmmakers experimenting with different techniques and ways of making movies.