Hardcore Henry Is A Solid Experiment And Exploitation Thriller — A Review

Rob Bradfield writes …

The trailers for the first-person point of view sci-fi thriller, Hardcore Henry, may be the most honest thirty seconds in the history of film advertising: it is a non-stop, balls-to-the-wall action movie in the tradition of Crank that hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the final credits roll. Shot almost entirely on GoPro cameras and custom rigs, one might assume the gimmick is the main — if not only — reason to see the film. Removed from the flashy filming techniques, Hardcore Henry is still a fun and refreshingly original exploitation movie that is sure to please genre fans and inspire future action movie directors.

Though GoPro cameras have been used in feature films and documentaries for a while now, director Ilya Naishuller is the first to use the technology to tell a long form, commercial narrative solely from the protagonist’s point of view. Though the technique has been used for decades in short segments, long-form use of it has been traditionally dismissed as a gimmick. To Naishuller’s credit, it actually creates a unique connection between the protagonist and the audience. Though not shot to be viewed expressly on the Oculus Rift, the timing is right for the film to blow some minds on that device as well.

The film’s main drawback is for those prone to motion sickness. If roller coasters, first person shooters, and/or Paul Greengrass movies give you a headache or make you queasy, it’s probably best to sit this one out.

If Hardcore Henry is any indicator, the learning curve between the debut of GoPro tech and filmmakers maximizing its benefits is very abrupt. And while it is unlikely that films will all be like it in the future, it is a safe bet mainstream storytellers will borrow a trick or two from Naishuller. At the same time, Hardcore Henry succeeds where other immersive experiments fail because, even if it was shot in a more conventional way, its premise alone is the stuff of a big studio blockbuster:

A cyborg wakes up on an operating table with no memory of who he is nor how he got there. Fortunately, the doctor attaching replacement limbs and rebooting his memory is his wife. Before all his systems are online and his memory is restored, a paramilitary squad – headed by an albino crime boss with telekinetic powers dedicated to world domination – breaks into the facility, killing the staff and kidnapping his wife. So begins the race to save both their lives, as he occasionally stops to slaughter his enemies and search for batteries.

To keep the breakneck pace up, provide connective tissue and inject some much needed comic relief is Chappie‘s Sharlto Copley as Jimmy. The character has a knack for appearing just in the nick of time, usually when serious ordinance is needed. He also fills in enough gaps in Henry’s fritzing memory to move the story along. But Jimmy – who changes personalities and clothes each time he shows up – also has a habit of getting killed in bizarre and horrifying ways as quickly as he appears. So in addition to the insanity of the situation, it is questionable whether or not Jimmy is even real … right up until the musical number.

Yes, a musical number.

As one of the genre’s go-to character actors, Copley already makes it worth the price of admission. A half dozen or so performers singing Cole Porter is added ticket value.

The principal cast also includes Haley Bennett from the upcoming Magnificent Seven remake who as Henry’s wife, Estelle, puts a new spin on the classic damsel in distress; a cameo by Tim Roth as Henry’s similarly hardened father; and Moscow native Dalina Kozlovsky as the film’s main villain, Akan. While Kozlovsky may be most familiar to American Audiences as Dmitri in Vampire Academy, he is a rising star in Russia (where Hardcore Henry was filmed) with several credits under his belt. The role of a telekinetic albino with a private army is an over the top role in an already over the top movie, but Kozlovsky subverts expectations, playing Akan as a calculating psychopath and, above all else, ice cold.

Make no mistake, Hardcore Henry is still a bloody, violent exploitation film and not for the weak of heart. Not just because it’s an R-rated action thriller, but being that close to the wall-to-wall action, will leave you feeling winded.

Hardcore Henry kicks down the doors of your local multiplex on April 8.