If you spent your whole life living in a videogame, you might be able to appreciate Hardcore Henry. Better yet, if all you’ve done since teething is sit in front of a TV screen playing the latest first person shooter to be released by your favorite console device, you might be able to enjoy it more than anyone. The standard moviegoer, on the other hand, will start to feel a familiar dizziness in their head. The result will either be motion sickness, a headache or both. What they won’t experience is entertainment.
Hardcore Henry is a gimmick. It’s not a movie since it doesn’t even pretend to offer the basics of the artform – story, character, drama, excitement, suspense, etc. Instead, we witness an entire 90-minute frenzy from the perspective of the titular character… and we never once leave that POV. Take The Blair Witch Project, ram it into Cloverfield, sprinkle liberally with ideas stolen wholesale by the far, far superior Crank series, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. That’s what Hardcore Henry is.
The story – what little there is – has the title Henry waking up in a hospital bed. Eventually, we start to piece together the often incoherent pseudo-plotting. Henry is now some kind of cybernetic super soldier. His wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett) tries to explain things to him and then is kidnapped by an albino baddie with some sort of supernatural something-or-other. His name is Akan (DanilaKozlovsky) and he’s as vacant as the rest of the film.
Of course, our lead goes into hero mode. There’s someone named Jimmy (District 9’s Sharlto Copley) who seems to die – and come back to life – with oddball frequency. No real objective. No real goals.
That’s it. For 90 long and exasperating minutes we suffer through poorly captured GoPro footage while the rest of the cast do unnatural things just to play to the camera. Director IlyaNaishuller originally used this type of technique in a pair of short films, and perhaps, within such a brief running time, it could work. But for those people who find the whole “why are they still holding the camera” idea annoying, Hardcore Henry is beyond maddening. It’s insipid and aggravating, trying to make a stunt cinematic and failing, well, ad nauseum.
There will be some who call this hollow spectacle innovative and fresh. Clearly, they don’t understand what those adjectives mean. Again, in order for Hardcore Henry to be anything other than an experiment, it requires more than mere novelty – and when you consider the films that have already tried something like this (albeit through the lens of a cameraman or woman, not an actual POV) you can see how less than groundbreaking this approach is. This film is nothing more than a resume reel, a chance for Naishuller to show off so that, hopefully, some studio exec sees his work and wants him for the next untitled tentpole.
Be warned, Hardcore Henry will be nausea-inducing for anyone not used to sitting in front of their X-box and spending countless hours running down virtual corridors, dodging enemy fire while trying to destroy the monsters in their path. Just because technology can allow you to make a movie like this doesn’t mean you should. The younger generation might complain that the vast majority of moviegoers won’t “get” Hardcore Henry, but that’s not the main problem. The issue remains that everything about this story is incomprehensible.
Take the title character, for example. Henry is a cipher. There’s nothing to know about him. When people have to explain a personality to you, you’re already removed from identifying with the character. Add in the constant chaos to this non-character in this non-story, and there’s nothing left but method. Style over substance is one thing. Hardcore Henry has none of the latter, and the former only forces you to reconsider the whole found footage subgenre.
The acting? How can your rate it? No one embarrasses themselves in this film, but what, really, are they required to do with their characters? Talking to a camera lens convincingly should be part of any performers possible abilities. The same goes for the directing. You put a GoPro on someone’s head and then set a stunt set-piece in motion. What you capture, you use. There’s really no way to control it.
In the end, it’s the lack of a legitimate storyline and/or believable, relatable characters that kills Hardcore Henry. The rest is just film school swagger lost in a realm of unrealized designs and detours.