Hardcore Henry: First Successful First-Person Film

Ben Atwater

Not only did Deadpool make a ton of money when it came out in February, it also debuted the trailer of an upcoming action film, titled Hardcore Henry. What made Hardcore Henry appealing to audiences was the nature of its first person perspective. The trailer showcased the entire film’s format, which lead to much anticipation for its release on April 8.

The plot of the film is rather simple. Set in Russia, Henry awakens with no memory of any events prior to the film’s opening and has not regained his ability to speak after being resurrected, so everything must be told to the viewer by the other characters, mostly Jimmy. Jimmy, played by Sharlto Copley (District 9), appears in various iterations throughout the plot as completely different characters. This is explained later in the film, but shows the efforts of diversifying a role.

Henry’s body has been rebuilt in an advanced lab after his limbs were severed in a past accident. Essentially a cyborg, Henry soon finds himself on the run from a group of terrorists, headed by an insane leader with telekinetic powers, Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). Akan and his associates kidnap Henry’s wife, Estelle (Hayley Bennett), so Henry makes it his mission to save his wife. With Akan’s forces always in hot pursuit, there is one action sequence after another.

Hardcore Henry is the first feature film from writer-director Ilya Naishuller, a Russian videographer whose previous work has consisted of music videos for various bands. For a first effort, this is admirable. The editing and direction in Hardcore Henry is excellent, as the action is easy to follow, despite the first-person perspective. One would think that would make the action scenes less satisfying, as was the case with Cloverfield, yet this makes the scenes far more interesting, surprisingly enough.

One cannot help but compare the cinematic style to that of a video game. The perspective is very reminiscent of Call of Duty and other first-person shooters. Even the jumping shown in the film feels like the jumping in a video game. Video game physics seem to be in play here too, such as not needing to slow when jumping off a building, or regeneration after being in low-health mode.

There are obviously CGI moments in the film, yet this is not distracting, at it is done in a way that fits the video game-like world perfectly. This film is incredibly graphic as well, with soldiers dying in horrific ways at Henry’s hand, whether that means crushing their faces into concrete slabs or drowning them in one inch puddles, thus taking average situations and makes them far more interesting. In terms of acting, there are both hits and misses. As mentioned earlier, Copley’s character appears during various parts of the film with personalities, and his execution is excellent. To explain exactly why would be spoiling plot, but it lends to a diverse and at times comedic performance. Kozlovsky’s villain, Akan, is rather generic, reminding the audience of exaggerated sci-fi villains of the 90s, like Zorg in The Fifth Element or Clarence J. Boddicker from Robocop. Actually, the idea of bionic regeneration clearly mimics Robocop, as are many of the action scenes.

Although he is mute and all we see is his arms at our side from a first-person view, Henry is surprisingly well-developed. Perhaps due to other characters’ treatment of him, but we still see a likable personality who is just trying to eliminate the conflict at hand.

The film’s plot is incredibly frantic. Every time Henry escapes a dangerous situation, he only rests for a maximum of two minutes, as Akan’s troops are always behind him. Many have complained that Hardcore Henry does not have a plot. Admittedly, there is less plot development and more action sequences than in normally-structured films like The Hunger Games. But the charm of this film is the frantic, action-packed video game theme. It is like nothing I have ever seen in film. Thinking back hours after viewing the film, I remember Hardcore Henry as an interactive experience, which was exactly what the director was going for. While it might be nauseating for some, I was completely enamored with this film.

If you’re looking for something besides a traditional film, then check out Hardcore Henry. Its brief ninety minute run makes time fly by. If not worth full price, then the film is certainly worth matinee prices for the sheer departure from generic fare.