If you’ve heard of Hardcore Henry, you probably know that it’s an action movie in the first-person perspective. It takes up the mantle of moderately successful first-person films, including The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, and infuses the category with a huge shot of adrenaline. What comes out on the other side is a non-stop, bloody fun ride.
The idea for Hardcore Henry was born from director Ilya Niashuller’s music for video for Biting Elbow’s “Bad Motherf***er.” The music video uses the first-person narrative style to deliver a five-minute adventure following a man maiming and murdering black suit soldiers and running into scantily clad women. Hardcore Henry is a much more refined version of the music video with an actual plot, albeit a very thin one.
Ilya Niashuller’s directorial debut carries a lot of the same elements present in thrillers like Pulp Fiction and Drive. Look no further than the disturbing opening credits, which plays to the backdrop of The Strangler’s “Let Me Down Easy” serenading a series of fists crashing against skulls and human extremities being penetrated by knives. It sets the tone early on for what you’re about to embark on.
There is no moral message or call to action here, just one man’s goal to get from point A to point B with a whole lot of violence, blood and decapitation along the way. Henry’s the titular character here, but he’s by no means the protagonist. That title belongs to the dynamic Jimmy—portrayed by a fantastic Sharlto Copley—who steals every scene he’s in. Copley first rose to fame in District 9 as the loveable yet completely inept Wikus, and he brings the same humanity and charisma to Jimmy. Haley Bennett and Danila Kozlovsky round out the main cast but only as archetypes of damsel in distress and ruthless Russian villain.
Henry is a mute mechanical puppet that doesn’t utter a single line of dialogue, and although you experience everything from his perspective, there is no development to who he is aside from a minor flashback with a token cameo from Tim Roth. Surprisingly, his lack of communication enhances the film, as you’re not really worried about missing anything from the first-person perspective—Henry is just as lost as you are when the film begins, thus making the experience a mutual adventure. Adversely, by the time the plot twist is reached at the end, you find yourself knowing even less of Henry than you did at the beginning.
A movie with a grand idea like this needs to go all out, and Hardcore Henry does that with an overabundance of chutzpah necessary to keep the jolt of adrenaline running for 96 minutes with limited plot beats. The first-person perspective can be dismissed easily as a gimmick, but that argument isn’t without merit. All the fun in the world can’t overcompensate the lack of cohesive character development and a skeletal plot, which hinder the overall experience from reaching its full potential.
For all of its faults, Hardcore Henry still delivers what it promises: a hell of a good time. The masterful stuntwork, creative long shots and fun premise keep what would otherwise be a stale movie exciting and engaging. If you judge this movie by the same barometer you judge Citizen Kane, you’ll be disappointed; but if you come at this with an open mind, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Hardcore Henry is available on digital and Blu-ray July 26.