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Hardcore Henry (2016)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

HARDCORE HENRY (2016)

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Andrei Dementiev, Tim Roth

Written and Directed By: Ilya Naishuller

The Shot

Hardcore Henry is an ultraviolent action flick that goes all-in with its gimmick of being presented entirely in first person perspective.  It’s interesting enough as a cheap one off, but it’s also a constant threat to induce motion sickness in the audience.


The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

ONE NACHO DORITO.

The official snack of gamers everywhere, but just have one.  You do not want any more food in your stomach when you watch this movie.


Pairs Well With...

VODKA.

“That strong Russian shit!”  But maybe wait until the movie stops moving.

“I am in no condition to do this!”


Once upon a time, back in the days of DOS, the PC game of the future arrived.  It was called “Wolfenstein 3D,” and it was a first person shooter.  Even with its pixilated graphics, it caused some players to get motion sick.

Flash forward twenty-four years.  The first person shooter has become one of the most dominant video game formats across every platform, and video games in turn have become such a dominant force in personal entertainment that revenues from the biggest game titles easily leave most cinema box office numbers in the dust.  Of course a peanut butter and chocolate scenario was inevitable.

In fact, it was tried several years back in the big screen adaptation of the first person shooter Doom.  For roughly three minutes, the audience experienced the action from the perspective of one of the characters, just like in the game.  It felt horribly out of place, and was the worst three minutes of the movie.

But now from Russia comes something that goes all in: Hardcore Henry, an original movie that plays entirely from the first person perspective of its hero, Henry, who is therefore, effectively, you, assuming that you’re a Caucasian male and wear tighty whities and have a questionable arm tattoo.  Henry wakes up with no memory whatsoever and no ability to speak out loud, both brilliant moves on the creative team’s part for promoting the full immersion experience.  It is quickly established that Henry is (you are) a cyborg. Henry was (you were) effectively blown apart in some violent encounter not so long ago, but he was (you were) then rebuilt by a woman who further explains that she is his (your) wife, who also happens to be a brilliant cyberneticist.

Anyone who’s played a few video games knows what has to happen next.  Bad guy (with extraordinary superpowers that are never explained) shows up, things get nasty, wife ends up getting kidnapped while the hero escapes.  Mentor character shows up, and we’re off to the first person races to collect various items and reach certain checkpoints while battling trash mobs and mini bosses on the way to a final, inevitable duel with the main bad guy (who of course shows up for a couple of cutscenes along the way).  Anyone who’s played a few video games will also see the various “twists” coming from several miles off, but hey, that’s part of the gameplay formula, right?

Except… Hardcore Henry is a movie, and it’s pretty easy to see why it barely managed to last two weeks in first run wide release, just like it’s pretty easy to see why it’ll find its niche on home video and why a bunch of cheesy copycats will probably follow.

Let’s start with the gimmick of first person perspective.  The good news is that it’s way better than what was tried for three minutes in Doom.  The creative team is fully committed to it, and that commitment translates into quality.  That quality makes Hardcore Henry neat as a one-off experience, but it’s not something I’m eager to revisit.  First person perspective in video games tends to be fluid and smooth, which is how gamers can go on night long marathons.  Hardcore Henry is a bunch of guys taking turns with a Go Pro (really; that’s how they filmed this), and that reality is not smooth at all.  Audiences with any propensity at all toward motion sickness are tempting fate if they don’t have a barf bag handy, and even those who normally don’t get queasy may find the big screen experience to be too much.  (I don’t see it being any easier to watch on 1080 or especially on 4K come home video time, either.)  And though the creative team gets decent marks for effort on the whole immersion experience – that is the point of first person perspective, after all – it just doesn’t click.  Even if you do happen to be a white guy who has a questionable arm tattoo, you’re never really going to feel like Henry unless you get exceptionally drunk first, and then that whole motion sick/vomit thing would kick in and that wouldn’t end well.  So, neat gimmick, but when the credits roll, it’s still just a gimmick.

Take that gimmick away, and what’s left is a 1990s era direct-to-video action flick with a modest budget that swings heavily toward the “graphic violence” end of the scale and doesn’t hesitate to drop in an extended visit to a brothel for those who prefer a different sort of eye candy.  (No first person perspective sex, though, in case you were wondering.)  The story is serviceable but predictable (even when it thinks it’s not), and both it and the action sequences were obviously designed to specifically serve the perspective gimmick.  These aren’t complaints, mind you; I happen to like cheesily violent 1990s era direct-to-video action flicks with ridiculous plots and serviceable but predictable storylines, and as noted before, had the filmmakers not gone all-in with their chosen gimmick, the whole thing would have fallen apart.  But I also like those movies to live solidly in the cheap bin at the big box and in even cheaper neighborhoods on the streaming service, and that’s where I think Hardcore Henry belongs, too.

What?  It’ll still make a tidy profit there.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2016


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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