Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry is something of a surprise. The plot is almost nonexistent, it’s full of violence, made me grimace, and I enjoyed every minute. Because I’m a gamer.
If you’ve never heard of this movie, check it out. Here’s the trailer, proceed with caution, PEGI 18.
So, it’s not really a movie. It’s an experiment. It was created almost entirely using GoPro cameras mounted just below the eyes of cameramen and stuntmen playing the main role. See for yourself (photo from Hardcore Indiegogo campaign).
The plot is just an excuse; guy with amnesia, mute cyborg, wakes up to a pretty blonde (Haley Bennett) attaching a leg and a hand to his body. As she indroduces herself as his wife, we proceed to meeting some unimportant NPCs and the Evil Boss with telekinetic powers (looking like Lucius Malfoy on crystal meth). So the protagonist (it’s hard to call him a hero for some reason) after couple minutes starts on his quest of rescuing his wife. And then he proceedes with the mission for an hour and half.
You won’t find a proper review here. I did enjoy the movie but I’m not going to discuss the plot, choreography, or actors’ playing capabilities. I won’t give you convenient rating of so many stars (oh, how do I hate this star-rating! But I’ll rant about it some other time). I’m here to tell you about immersion. And trivia, because I love trivia, and my husband (and fellow movie-watcher) loves it as much as guns and video games.
As you’ve noticed from the trailer or information scattered throughout the Internet, Hardcore Henry pays a tribute to the computer games. Here’s a nice “Forbes” article about the movie as first-person shooter on a big screen. If you’ve played any game of this kind, you’ll feel like home. If you haven’t… well, I have no idea, check for yourself.
Immersion, then. Placing the cameras on actor’s face actually makes a big difference. You can see with his eyes (sometimes one of the eye-camera gets displaced or broken, and then you have a brilliant double vision). If Henry’s punched into face and falls to the ground, the vision gets blurry, unsteady; if he’s losing consciousness, you see black; if he kills someone up close, you have to wipe the blood off your eyes. If his energy is running low (he’s a cyborg, don’t forget it), you see digital systems crashing.
It has a big potential for making you nauseated. It also has a great potential for being The Next Big Thing in cinematography. Just imagine!
If you’ve ever played Shadowrun (I mean the role-playing game, not the computer game, but in both cases you’ll get my point), you know of better-than-life’s, cold and hot sims; of movies that are shown inside your brain, sometimes witha direct connection with your neural system. In hot sim mode (illegal, but it’s irrelevant at this moment) you can feel whatever you see on the screen, every punch, every smell, every kiss.
Thankfully, you can’t fel it in Hardcore Henry, that would be a very painful experience. Even without neural connection, the sound of re-locating the dislocated shoulder made me cringe; seeing guy lose his head just in front of my eyes was disturbing; heck, the opening credits animation made me wonder what I’m doing there. The movie is advertised as [18+] only, and let me tell you, that’s the only way. The amount of violence and gore was huge, but what mostly made it for adults was the first person perspective. The immersion makes it real, Henry’s lack of voice – even more.
If you’re not repelled by violence on screen (we all love Tarantino, don’t we?), you start noticing some other things: funny, well-thought, inspired even. Like the small bits of humour: a cute cat running across the hall in the middle of firefight (no harm was done to the cat, if you’re wondering), mobile phone ringing in the most inconvenient of times, red barrels which did not explode, a horse as an transportation device (wonderful scene, how many times you’ve ridden on randomly found horse in games?), even a bloody tank! This movie got everything, like a very, very derivative first-person shooter.
It’s fast-paced, playing with tropes, supplying the viewer with almost every single staple game NPC, all played by Sharlto Copley. Many scenes ar written in the same way you’d write a cut-scene, or a part of tutorial (“You can’t shoot them from here. It’s a good time to use a grenade”). You’ll find random boxes with red cross sign, you’ll heal to max HP before the Boss Fight, you’ll have the sequences for quick-time events. You’ll catch yourself wanting to have your controller in hands, and mash “X” at some points.
You’ll put your hands on numerous weapons, mostly looted from enemies’ bodies, and you’ll kill Russians with the fantastic soundtrack playing in the background. Oh boy, music and sound effects in general are brilliant. You even get Wilhelm scream! Although it is possible that they bought me with Don’t stop me now by Queen which is my favourite song ever.
This movie is so violent, so game-inspired, so need-to-be-seen-in-context-not-a-normal-action-movie, it’s just silly. Come on, they’ve mounted a gatling on a motorcycle with a sidecar! Have you guys ever heard of recoil? Of heavy weapon on a moving vehicle? You need context, you need proper suspension of disbelief, you need distance to enjoy this movie (if you’re enjoying it as it is, because of killing spree and gore, I hope we’ll never meet).
I have no idea if you’ll enjoy this movie. For me it was entertaining. Male-centered, of course, but somehow not sexist. Even in brothel Henry – and camera – wasn’t keen on lingering gazes. The damsel in distress, as much as I hate this trope, was actually handled very well (shush, spoilers!). I happen to feel about it the same way I’ve felt about James Cameron’s Avatar (have you heard he’s promised us four sequels in the next couple of years?) – an experiment, a technical novelty that may or may not become a new movie standard. I also happen to feel that I enjoyed Hardcore Henry more.