Hardcore Henry Review [SXSW 2016]
Disclaimer: I have never done hard drugs, hallucinogens, or any other kind of mind-altering substance. Also, I’m a gamer-generation FPS lover who spent too many collective
hours days months earning nukes in Call Of Duty 4. Just to preface my opinion.
Hardcore Henry feels like you ingested LSD, railed a line of cocaine and jacked-in to your favorite first-person-shooter title, suddenly finding yourself at the center of a pulse-pounding, head-banging, high-speed-chase on NOS. This is Crank, InFamous, and The Raid all rolled into one massive super-blunt that unlocks an orgasmic, adrenaline-laced high no movie experience has yet to achieve. Cinema must evolve to survive, and Ilya Naishuller has just changed the action genre landscape forever. Love it or hate it, filmmakers will be citing Hardcore Henry years from now, when 4D theaters replace modern movie cineplexes with immersive, body-switching experiences. Naishuller is just ahead of the curve.
YOU star as Henry, a part human, mostly robotic soldier with no memory. You’re greeted by a sweet lab technician (Haley Bennett) who reveals herself to be your wife, as she screws you back together (in a non-dirty way). But before your voice modulation upload can complete, a warlord known as Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) crashes the party. With no memory, and enhanced fighting skills, you’re forced to fight off Akan’s capture attempts, with the aid of a mysterious, form-swapping man named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley). Buckle up, because it’s going to be one bumpy, bloody ride to freedom.
So, let’s clear this up now. Is this first-person, GoPro-heavy filmmaking a gimmick? Absolutely, and that’s what draws you in. But Hardcore Henry does not succeed because Naishuller straps a GoPro on some dude and asks him to parkour around Russia. Hardcore Henry eviscerates expectations through achievements in break-neck originality, a wildly maniacal approach to gore and an ever-appreciated strive to continually raise its own ante.
Whenever you think Naishuller maxes out on how hardcore Henry really is, some crazy twist bursts out of nowhere, like Akan’s telekinetic powers, or a digital VR experience that plummets you towards Earth, or EXPLODING HEADS AND BARBED WIRE BRASS KNUCKLES AND OTHER CRAZINESS. This is not a point-and-shoot adventure. This is something big. Something bold. Something you’ve never seen before.
While intended for mass consumption, Hardcore Henry may find itself caged by generational preferences. Consider this a warning, more than anything. If a non-speaking hero shooting Doom‘s Big Fuckin’ Gun doesn’t get your nippies slightly tweaked, stay far away from this anarchistic action extravaganza.
Through the eyes of Henry, motion sickness could definitely upset the weakest of stomaches, since whip-cracking camera turns certainly bring the shake – but choreography and artistry are never lost. Yes, here’s where I say Hardcore Henry is a first-person take on The Raid, while also acknowledging that’s certainly not for everyone.
Plotting is at a minimum here, because, have you ever played today’s video games? No one wants intricate stories – just fast forward the talky shit and BLOW SOMEONE UP. Even so, there’s ENOUGH story to make Henry’s existence intriguingly questionable, but you’re here for the action, and you won’t be let down.
Sharlto Copley plays your guide of sorts, as he finds himself in a cycle of being killed, and respawning (gaming terms for coming back to life) with a different persona each time. This ongoing joke never fails to impress, as everyone will have their favorite, equally endearing Copley. Mine happens to be “Strip Clubbing Copley With A Fro, Stomach Tattoo, And Who Only Wears Underwear,” as he buries his face in a mountain of cocaine before charging into battle, screaming like a castrated banshee from Hell.
But, whichever your preference, Copley’s ability to be more than an NPC (gaming term for Non-Playable Character) is extremely important, since his performance leads more than…er…our own? He’s a hilarious, ass-kicking chameleon who delights while dancing to lounge music in a tuxedo, only to chop a mercenary’s head off as a mohawked punk-rocker moments later. Copley is our guide, both through Henry’s life, and our own cinematic enjoyment.
Copley is joined by Tim Roth, Haley Bennett and Danila Kozlovsky in supporting roles, – Bennett as your damsel in distress, and Roth as a motivator of sorts – but, besides Copley, henchman comprise most of the film’s population, and they aren’t around for long. Because they’re killed horribly and painfully.
This type of fetishized violence will assuredly be a sensory overload for some, but you’re warned by an opening credits sequence featuring despicable, gory acts tinted in blood-red hues. If you can’t stomach a hunting knife being shoved through a thug’s neck in slow-motion, then you certainly won’t tolerate the testicle-smashing, decapitating, other-hole-creating uber-violence that can only described as fantastical carnage on an action porn level.
So, let’s recap – is Hardcore Henry for you? Well, do you like your senseless violence set to a bass-thumping, rage-inducing soundtrack, cleverly contrasted by action comedy quips and flamethrower thugs who appear to be auditioning for Daft Punk? If so, embrace the chaos and become the pistol-whipping, macho hero who walks around with naked ladies and lodges bullets in evil brains. If not, then keep your weak, politically correct bullshit to yourself, while the rest of us soak in Naishuller’s gratuitously unapologetic bullet-biting fun.
Hardcore Henry is not the cheap gimmick you’d expect – it’s balls-to-the-wall in ways that’d make Schwarzenegger, Norris, and Van Damme blush.
Hardcore Henry will leave even the most enthusiastic action fans breathless, beaten and begging for more.