Hardcore Henry

3.3 Overall Score
Writing: 3/10
Production: 4/10
Performances: 3/10

A never-before-attempted first person POV...

Annoys and enrages the viewer throughout.

Hardcore Henry
Director: Ilya Naishuller
Writers: Ilya Naishuller, Will Stewart
Stars: Sharlto Copley, Tim Roth, Haley Bennett
Bazelevs/Versus Pictures
2016

Hardcore Henry is a garish grotesquerie of a failure. In the advance screening arranged by the studio, I sat there trying to puzzle out how one convinces so many cast and crew to commit so much energy and treasure to an idea that is so transparently awful.

The plot is minimal. What there is of it is stolen from the science fiction series Orphan Black, the video game Bioshock, and most Stallone and Schwarzenegger vehicles made in the 1980s. The performances are two-dimensional – except for the main character, Henry. He gives, literally, no performance at all. He has no dialogue, the thinnest possible Rescue the Princess motivation, and doesn’t even make facial expressions that the audience can see. Because as you may have heard, all the action of the film is seen through Henry’s eyes.

The Internet Movie Database doesn’t even list Henry in the credits. Although it does list credits for Girl in Brothel #1 through #29. They all wear the same blonde wig. It’s that kind of movie, only worse.

It goes like this. Henry wakes up in the cyborg lab. The scientist there, Estelle, is also his wife. Screwing his limbs on, she tells him that it is normal that he has no memory. But she loves him, and let’s go get your voice module installed.

But before that happens, Akan the Mononym smashes his way in and tries to kidnap Henry, to further his plans to build a world-conquering army of super soldiers or something. Henry escapes, but Estelle winds up in Akan’s clutches. Now Henry has to get her back. He teams up with some guys named Jimmy to get it done.

This involves ninety-six minutes of GoPro Henry shooting, chasing, chopping, and smashing his way through Russia and battalions of mercenaries obeying Akan, who is apparently telekinetic or something. The through-the-eyes POV is so bumpy, juddering, racing and swinging, that one question reboots itself endlessly in the viewer’s mind. What the fuck am I looking at now? For the first thirty minutes or so, the novelty is thrilling. But very little in this world is interesting for ninety-six minutes at a time, slaughter included. Henry liquidates platoons of nameless goons with the monotony of a Roomba attacking a spill of Lucky Charms. The point of view also makes the sequence of events hard to follow. Who are those female mercenaries with the katanas? How many of them died? Whose side are they on? Why did Akan do all that? What the fuck am I looking at now?

This POV trick can be done, but that doesn’t mean that it should be done. Video games use it extensively, but in video games, the player is the character – making decisions, taking actions, and gaining the rewards. In Hardcore Henry, the viewer is the confused guy. This POV hasn’t been done before because a., the technology didn’t exist, and b., it’s stupid! Hardcore Henry is a clumsy, doomed attempt to provide a virtual reality-ish experience in a medium, film, that is waiting to be left behind by actual virtual reality.

Writer/director Ilya Naishuller, who has set his film in his native Russia, serves up the blood like Senator Sanders handing out free tuition checks. He starts heavy, and decides that ratcheting up the stakes in the third act means even more with the gore. Without plot or characters, what else can you do?

Hardcore Henry glances at the venerable science fiction theme, what will our technology make our bodies become? Mary Shelley invented it with Frankenstein in 1818. She did it a lot better. Hardcore Henry is best viewed while drunk, and with the sound off. With the sound off, the movie’s big musical number will appear to be performed by half a dozen identical narcoleptics, which might be pleasantly puzzling, instead of relentlessly frustrating.

 

 

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Brian Downes
Author: Brian Downes View all posts by
Brian Downes is a writer who lives in Orlando, Florida. His novel, The Berlin Fraternity, about a man who hunts vampires for the Third Reich, is available on the Kindle and through Amazon.com. He enjoys pen and paper roleplaying games and geek culture. He clearly remembers waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to hit theaters, and vindicate his opinion that of course Vader was not Luke's father. You can't trust Vader's word!

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