A Sci-Fi Honey New Release Review by Katie
Hardcore Henry (2016)
“I solemnly swear I will not vomit in your movie theatre.”
This statement – not in so many words – is the pledge I had to make before the box office attendant at my local cineplex would sell me a ticket to see writer/director Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry; a film supposedly so intense that it came with a verbal caveat about being off-limits to anyone susceptible to motion sickness. The truth is, I didn’t know for sure what my tolerance level was for this next frenetic evolution in the ‘Found Footage’ movement – I’d been on rollercoasters, airplanes, and speedboats, and I’d seen IMAX, 3D, and ‘POV’-style films known to make others sick: The Blair Witch Project, [REC]/Quarantine, District 9, and so on. I reassured her that I could handle myself, but sat in the very back row of the auditorium as a precaution. Clearly, the one thing getting people to see this movie on the big screen – the first-person GoPro gimmick – was the very same thing that was forcing others to steer clear. But is there more to Hardcore Henry than meets the (relentlessly shaky) eye?
Any POV-style film is designed to make you identify with the perspective of the lead character, so “we," as the audience, are “Henry:" a man waking up inside of a lab missing an arm, a leg, and his memory, all of which are soon replaced by a beautiful scientist, Estelle (the Jennifer Lawrence-doppelgänger Hayley Bennett). Estelle purports to be your wife, has traded your absent limbs for biomechanical super-appendages, and is about to install a voice chip when she’s violently kidnapped by telekinetic warlord Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). You want to rescue her, but your cybernetic body will die if it’s not recharged – a process that takes several deadly heists and murderous rampages through Moscow to complete. Your guide through this ordeal is the seemingly shifty Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who pops up in various incarnations to deliver messages and send you on your next mission, should you choose to accept it. It’s time to arm yourself with a double-dose of adrenaline, because Hardcore Henry delivers on the warning advertised in the film’s official MPAA disclaimer: rated R for non-stop bloody brutal violence and mayhem.
Rated R for nasal assault.
From the opening credits of the film – a slo-mo barrage of unmerciful imagery, from shooting and stabbing to full-force fists to the face – Hardcore Henry’s first-person style lends a uniquely visceral perspective to every exploding bomb and every crushing blow. For a while, the effect provides the same cathartic excitement of an old-school FPS video game like DOOM or Wolfenstein 3D: pummeling faceless militant goons, throwing a grenade down a stairwell, aligning your crosshairs on a target through the scope of a high-powered rifle. Everything about the film is a tribute to mindless, excessive violence; even the climax, set to “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen, shamelessly rip-roars across the screen like an obscenely testosterone-fueled remix of the Crazy 88s scene in Kill Bill: Vol 1. If motion sickness hasn’t taken over by this point in the film, you’re likely to succumb to the numbing effect of Hardcore Henry’s unabashed pleasure at inflicting so much gut-wrenching pain.
“Don't stop me now I'm having such a good time”
What makes all of this visual assault somewhat worthwhile is a campy and bold performance by Sharlto Copley, who in films like District 9, Oldboy, and Chappie, is becoming a sci-fi/horror genre star in his own right. As the many virtual avatars sprung from the mind of a wheelchair-bound supergenius, ‘Jimmy’ makes appearances as wildly varied as a drug-addled strip club purveyor to a buttoned-up computer geek, pausing in the middle of the film to perform a song-and-dance routine (because why not?). Copley is fun to watch in any manifestation of Jimmy, and keeps the film’s precariously hollow plot moving in a forward direction. Should the film continue as a series, I would love to see a spinoff featuring Copley as Hardcore Henry’s pal Jocular Jimmy – maybe this time with a few more static shots that give your eyes (and churning stomach) a moment to rest.
This guy definitely needs his own movie.
Motion sickness and relentless iron-fisted brutality aside, what filmgoers should really worry about with Hardcore Henry is the ripple effect it’s sure to have on the Found Footage subgenre ushered into popularity by The Blair Witch Project in 1999 and reinvigorated by Paranormal Activity in 2009. The POV gimmick itself is not as novel as one would assume – in fact, Hardcore Henry often plays out like a feature-length version of The Prodigy’s 1997 “Smack My Bitch Up” music video, complete with the techno-electro score – and yet, the film is getting massive amounts of attention for being entirely shot with hi-def GoPro mobile camera technology. Rest assured that other filmmakers will be similarly inspired to make their own action, sci-fi, or horror films using this newly-fashionable technique, and scores of cinematic copycats will be hitting screens worldwide very soon. In the meantime, this Sci-Fi Honey can safely say I made it through the film without the need for a barf bag – although including one with every ticket stub would be a clever addition to the film’s promotional materials. Say what you will about the fad that Hardcore Henry is sure to usher in, but I’ll admit I have never seen a film quite like it – and for the sake of all the imitations that are sure to follow, I hope I don’t see another like it anytime soon.
Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Three-and-a-half GoPro punches to the throat out of five.
Hardcore Henry is currently playing in theaters nation-wide!
How hardcore did YOU find Henry?
Tell Katie on Twitter: @moonrisesister
Tell Katie on Twitter: @moonrisesister