He Never Died Review [SXSW 2015]

Matt Donato

Reviewed by:
On March 17, 2015
Last modified:April 1, 2015


He Never Died is a genre movie that refuses to let itself be defined, but the film's guessing game grows tiresome as the questions only continue to mount.

He Never Died Review

he never died

There will always be movies that provide all the necessary answers, but there will also be others that revel in the muddied concept of ambiguity. Despite a culture of spoonfeeding and obvious storytelling, He Never Died dares to be a shapeless tale that could be interpreted many ways – a “Choose Your Own Adventure” of sorts. All we know is what’s given in the title, and that’s the only information writer/director Jason Krawczyk cares to offer for a majority of his drifter’s curious predicament. You’ve got your rugged loner main character, his couldn’t-care-less attitude, and the reality that he just can’t seem to die. Why can’t he die? In the words of Krawczyk’s hero (anti-hero), *shrugs, walks away.*

Henry Rollins plays a simple man named Jack, who expresses little interest in the thugs that show up at his door looking for a fight. After escorting the two out, Jack returns to his general routine of sleeping, going to a local diner, and playing senior bingo – until his daughter Andrea (Jordan Todosey) shows up. Treating the situation as a nuisance, Jack lets her hang around and ask intrusive questions, but when the thugs take her hostage, things get complicated. As the levels of violence in Jack’s life start to increase, a dark side of the normally reserved man emerges, setting him on a bloody relapse into an addiction that not many other people suffer from. Will he ever see Andrea again? Probably, if it fits his “busy” schedule.

The entirely of He Never Died rests on the broad shoulders of Henry Rollins, whose only weapons are an iron jaw and minimal vocal usage. Even though the punk rocker made a living out of lyrical screams, his character Jack keeps his sentences short and his enthusiasm quelled – except for a few feral roars. While the limited speech is both charming and mystifying when first introduced, the act grows old when explanations are wanted most. Jack never wants to talk about what he is, why he’s invincible, or why only he can see a strange man who’s constantly following him. Everything appears to be a bother to Jack, and we find ourselves stuck in his agitated mindset despite our own wishes to learn a little bit more. The part fits Rollins’ Terminator-esque stare well, but the character of Jack begs to be fleshed out into something more than blank machismo and selfish tendencies.

Ambiguity is Krawczyk’s biggest enemy, but there’s little done to brush away the fog that blurs punctuated scenes of violence and gore. I love a good mystery, don’t get me wrong, but it becomes natural for a person’s curiosity to turn from intent focus to sad frustration over time. Is Jack a zombie? Vampire? Angel? Wizard? There’s a short explanation given eventually (that I won’t divulge here), but the constant blurring of genre lines rarely provides anything more than a quick tease or swift one-liner. Jack doesn’t want to hear people talk about his life (as he’s haunted by horrific sounds of torture in his sleep), and since he won’t let anyone talk, viewers are left puzzling over their own interpretations. The whole ordeal is sadly unfulfilling thanks to a wide-open finale that ends exactly as we’d expect, despite Rollins’ intensified actions.

He Never Died is handcuffed by a vague story that relies too heavily on the unknown, but Krawczyk shows a steady and capable hand when introducing horror and quirkiness into the mix. Some of Rollins’ best moments are captured while stabbing his bingo card with a deadly-serious demeanor, and Krawczyk ensures that there’s a genuine feel when characters discover Rollins’ dark secret. Jordan Todosey and Kate Greenhouse offer chatty compliments to Rollins’ mute nature, and Steven Ogg gets to ham it up as a sleazy club owner, but Krawczyk makes certain that Rollins is always the center of the show. Like when he’s snapping people’s limbs and going for throat-rips that would make MacGruber himself blush.

Herein lies the problem – can you really get excited about a character who can’t seem to die? No matter how many times Jack is shot, tortured, or thrown in a river, he always comes back meaner and badder than before. I know that watching Henry Rollins go all Herculean sounds like great fun, but a lack of understanding sullies the gory bouts of blood drinking that send Jack into a ferocious rage. It’s not a hard story to follow, but the vague mumblecorian vibe ushers in a sense of meaninglessness – an anticlimactic realization that’s more of a head-scratcher than an exclamation point. He Never Died is like a superhero movie without the origin story, raising far more questions than Jack is willing to answer.