Kill Henry Kill

Hardcore Henry
(Russia/USA, 95 min.)
Dir. Ilya Naishuller; Writ. Ilya Naishuller, Will Stewart
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Tim Roth, Haley Bennett, Danila Kozlovsky
Photo courtesy of VVS Films

Lock and load, geeks and gamers! Duck Hunt meets Run Lola Run in a unique and exhilarating action film from the audience’s point of view.Hardcore Henry offers 95-minutes of ridiculous nonstop violence, mayhem, and R-rated intensity for fans of any POV shooter game from Doom to GoldenEye to the original lark of hunting quackers. Hardcore Henry aims straight at the wild experience of action gaming and it hits right on target.

Hardcore Henry, which opens in theatres after winning the People’s Choice Award in the Midnight Madness programme at TIFF last fall, gives an immersive first person action experience that lets the viewer play the role of a sharpshooting cyborg named Henry. Henry is a soldier on the run from an Albino baddie named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) only minutes after his wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett), brings him back from the dead in a top-secret operation. Obstacle after obstacle, bullet after bullet, and body upon body, Henry shoots his way to freedom.

Your ally in this mission, or Henry’s helper, is Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), an eccentric personality who doesn’t seem to have nearly as much luck dodging bullets as Henry does. Through car chases, strip joints, and runs through the woods, Jimmy is the Luigi to Henry’s Mario as Copley provides some fun and brash comic relief during the adrenaline-pumping action scenes. Copley gets top billing for his zany performance, but every member in the audience is essentially the star in Hardcore Henry. Hardcore Henry never shows Henry’s face and instead lets the viewer be a part of the action through Henry’s eyes as he shoots, splays, and splatters oodles of baddies while trying to stay alive. The film mirrors the style of first-person shooter games by having Henry’s hands creep into the corners of the frame as he fires away with pistols and machine guns, or his legs fly into view as he leaps from deadly heights or kicks baddies in the nuts.

The POV style of the film makes every kill especially intense as it forces the audience to look people in the eye as they cut their throats or put bullets in their brains. Hardcore Henry definitely isn’t for the squeamish, and while the film invites criticism by inviting viewers to feel their pulses race with the exhilarating feel of each kill, the film doesn’t have any pretense to realism within its escapist action. It’s no more dangerous than a mature video game is, maybe even less so since it invites viewers to experience action, but not make the choice to pull the trigger.

The visual and technical work is the real star here, though as the dizzying film largely plays out from the vantage point of Go Pro cameras affixed to a trio of cinematographers. Action sequences display some incredible stunt choreography as Henry jumps head first into crashes, car chases, and swarms of foes. The shrewd direction lets the rough and tumble nature of the production work to the film’s advantage, and the approach benefits a film with such a modest production. While this year’s Israeli horror flick JeruZalem adopts a first-person perspective using Google Glass as a conceit for found footage, Hardcore Henry uses the style more logically and consistently to bring the viewer right into the thick of the action. It’s as if bullets whiz by in real life.

The logic of Hardcore Henry also follows the style of the video game world as the film essentially offers a series of complications akin to levels of a game. The film uses repetition—like one character who appears, sets up the action, and then dies—to help guide the viewer through each new phase. Similarly, gamers will enjoy familiar do’s and don’ts of the POV shooter rules, like waves of innocent bystanders creating obstacles and tests of good judgement, as prostitutes assume the roles of scientists in a James Bond game. (“You shoot innocents, you fail.”) Video games generally don’t excel in the areas of plot and story, though, so Hardcore Henry frequently lags between episodes as some sequences or complications draw themselves out or become monotonous with barrages of dialogue-free disaster.

On the other hand, what Hardcore Henry lacks in story, it finds in the intensity of its nonstop action. If the POV style and zany action appeal to gamers on the film’s first run, Hardcore Henry has the goods to become a cult hit on home video as the arthouse crowd discovers the furiously paced action sequences and the innovative design that evoke Tom Tykwer’s 1998 hit Run Lola Run. Hardcore Henry is like Run Lola Run, but with a lot more killing (like, a lot more) as Henry races the clock to find a device that will keep his cyborg heart a-beating. Just like Lola, Henry needs to run and overcome fate while learning from mistakes as obstacles mirror previous episodes along his journey. The kinetic visual style of Hardcore Henry also positions it as an international arthouse flick just as much as it does as a mindless actioner, for the film breaks new ground with its POV carnage and energetic, blood-spattered escapism. Kill, Henry! Kill!

Hardcore Henry opens in theatres April 8 from VVS Films.