Products You May Like
First-person storytelling has existed since the very dawn of cinema, but it’s only with the rise of video games that it became commonplace. Sure, there were first-person thrillers before the digital age, such as 1947’s Lady in the Lake, but the visceral thrills of looking through someone else’s eyes are much easier to accomplish when you aren’t hindered by bulky camera equipment and spatial limitations.
That’s why it makes sense that a self-professed “son of rock ‘n roll” who grew up on a steady diet of American action flicks and videogames would see the advent of tiny portable cameras as an opportunity to explore first-person filmmaking. This is what led to the FPS-inspired music videos for the Biting Elbow’s The Stampede and Bad Motherfucker, which were both directed by the Russian-born Illya Naishuller (also the band’s lead vocalist).
These hyper-violent music videos didn’t take long to go viral, and fans – including director Timur Bekmambetov and Samuel L. Jackson – were soon clamoring for more POV filmmaking shenanigans. Fast-forward a few years and Illya soon found himself directing his first feature film in the form of Hardcore Henry, a gritty sci-fi action flick about a cyborg amnesiac who must rescue his girlfriend from a super-powered evildoer.
With a production budget of $2 million – ridiculously low for an action film – Naishuller went about creating a new kind of underground genre flick, going so far as to film without permits and sharing the dual role of main character/cinematographer with 12 other crewmembers. The end result was an incredibly innovative feature that became all the rage at film festivals back in 2015. Unfortunately, the wide release wasn’t as successful, with the film quietly falling into home video obscurity after a botched marketing campaign.
SO WHY IS IT WORTH A WATCH?
Action is really expensive to film, which is why you don’t see a ton of low-budget action flicks at indie festivals. It’s also incredibly dangerous if you don’t have an army of stunt performers and digital wizards to back up your special effects. With that in mind, the mere existence of Hardcore Henry is a guerilla filmmaking miracle, with the sheer amount of passion that went into crafting this insane piece of low-brow art making it easy to forgive an admittedly shallow script and a couple of rough edges.
And while the commitment to low budget exploitation filmmaking is admirable in and of itself, the most bonkers part is that it all comes together in the end to form a cohesive whole. It’s understandable that some audiences couldn’t get used to Hardcore Henry’s first-person shootouts and break-neck pace (which is probably why it isn’t talked about more), but viewers who grew up with FPS games are sure to appreciate its subjective charms. In fact, the POV element makes the action that much more believable even when there are obvious CGI enhancements, and there’s a certain sense of performative wonder once you realize that most of what you’re watching is happening almost exactly as it appears on-screen.
There are actually rumors of the crew being chased by angry cops during filming, as well as numerous stunt-related delays that extended production time into well over four months. And though I firmly believe that crewmembers should never be put at risk for the sake of a mere movie, I respect the hell out of the stunt team here for committing to such an insane labor of love.
This unusual amount of effort extends to the cast, from Danila Kozlovskiy’s memorably hammy comic-book villain to Sharlto Copley’s multi-faceted mentor figure inspired by non-player-characters in a videogame. Tim Roth is also excellent in his brief appearance as Henry’s father, giving our protagonist some heartwarming advice in a clever subversion of the classic “tough-guy dad” trope.
AND WHAT MAKES IT HORROR-ADJACENT?
It seems fitting that a movie with hardcore in the title would feature copious amounts of ultraviolence, and I think that’s going to be the main attraction for horror fans here. Obviously, there are enough firearm-related deaths in Hardcore Henry to make John Wick blush, but Henry becomes increasingly creative with his dispatching of goons as the movie goes on.
From lead pipe fellatio to that gruesome eye-stalk kill in the finale, there are plenty of deaths here that wouldn’t feel out of place in a slasher movie. And the best part is that it’s almost all achieved through clever practical effects (something that Naishuller would also strive for in 2021’s Nobody). This is made even more impressive by the fact that the movie is limited to Henry’s point of view, making every drop of blood that much more visceral.
There’s also plenty of genuinely disturbing body horror here, with Henry being forced to conduct impromptu surgery on himself and even donning brass knuckles made out barbed wire by the end of the picture. And speaking of body horror, the film borrows several elements from David Cronenberg’s Scanners when introducing audiences to the psychokinetic antagonist Akan.
Another interesting detail is that this is almost a Found-Footage movie, as with the exception of the opening credits and Tim Roth’s flashbacks, the entire film is technically being recorded by Henry’s cyborg eyes and edited after the fact (which even justifies the kick-ass soundtrack). This doesn’t necessarily make the film any better, but it does make it one of the most unique examples of Found-Footage filmmaking out there.
So if you’re in the market for an extremely gruesome experience but still want to be able to sleep at night, I’d recommend Hardcore Henry as your next midnight movie – especially if you’re a gamer and/or love guerilla filmmaking. I’d just suggest turning on safe-search before googling this film, lest you encounter some less-savory hardcore movies along the way.
There’s no understating the importance of a balanced media diet, and since bloody and disgusting entertainment isn’t exclusive to the horror genre, we’ve come up with Horror Adjacent – where we recommend non-horror movies that horror fans might enjoy!