What the hell just happened?4/13/2016
“Hardcore Henry” is being touted as the first film shot entirely from the first-person point of view. Writer and director Ilya Naishuller has repeatedly said in interviews that it was neither his inspiration nor his goal to create an experience similar to a first-person style video game, but everything from the silent main character to the “tutorial” pieces of dialogue to the over-the-top action help create a distinctly video game feel.
There are a couple of different ways to look at and examine “Hardcore Henry,” and the amount of enjoyment you get out of the experience will depend largely on which avenue you choose.
The first way is to treat “Hardcore Henry” as an artistic and stylistic proof of concept. In that regard, the film succeeds in spades. There have been plenty of films throughout movie history that have experimented with first-person point of view, but none have been as wholly committed to the experience as this one. Shot entirely with specially constructed head rigs and GoPro cameras, the film genuinely plays out in first person from start to finish. There are some nice scenes at the beginning and end where the field of vision are played around with a bit, and the film really works as a vehicle for showing action from a new perspective. The only issue with the concept is the obvious one: bring Dramamine. The entire film is so shaky and disorienting that most people will have to look away at least for a moment to bring their stomachs under control. And this, really, speaks to the larger problem with any kind of point of view cinematography: the human head and eyes have muscles devoted entirely to keeping our field of vision gyroscopically stable. When you nod your head, for example, your eyes stay fixed on a point in front of you, and your whole field of vision stays relatively stable. But when a camera “nods,” everything moves up and down in a sickeningly unnatural way. So when the action in “Hardcore Henry” hits its highest points, get ready for a stomach-churning ride.
The other way to look at the film is as a coherent story and, unfortunately, the film doesn’t hold up as well when looked at in that light. With just the barest of plot, the film tosses the viewer into a situation that is never fully explained. Henry attempts to save a wife he doesn’t remember from a villain with telekinetic abilities who shows the ability to kill Henry and end the story any time he wants — but he never does for reasons that are never addressed. The action can be difficult to follow, and the entire film is unapologetically violent. The lone bright spot from a story standpoint is in actor Sharlto Copley, who is best known for playing the lead in everything Neil Blomkamp does. Copely is a versatile, charismatic actor, and “Hardcore Henry” sees him playing no less than a half-dozen different personas in the same film, all of which he delivers with over-the-top flair that is genuinely fun to watch in a film that gives us precious little to engage with.
If you are going to see the film, I would highly recommend catching it on the big screen, where the visual tricks can be fully appreciated. However, if you have a weak stomach — either for movement or blood — it is probably best to go with something a little less… hardcore. CV
Starring: Sharlto Copely, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett