Hardcore Henry (2016) Review
A more intensely intimate version of ‘found footage’, POV is a camera perspective that has struggled to gain traction outside of two niches: video games and porn. There’s barely a hint of the latter, but “Hardcore Henry” owes a great deal to first-person shooters.
Waking up in a laboratory, Henry finds himself resurrected with no memory and some cybernetic enhancements. As well as recovering his memory and identity, he must find a way to save his wife from the clutches of a crazed telekinetic warlord who plans to take over the world with an army of bioengineered super soldiers.
Owing a lot of its energy and humour to the “Crank” movies, there’s little set up to the story as you crash right into it along with Henry himself – after all, you share his point of view (this film is definitely not for you if you’re not a fan of shakycam) so there’s no way you’re going to get any more information than he does. The film tends, therefore, to feel a bit disjointed at the start as it leaps (often literally) from non-sequitur to non-sequitur. Eventually, you piece together the plot but it’s very much like watching video games without the helpful expository cut scenes.
The technical skill on display in bringing the film to life is impressive and there’s no denying the stunt team deserve heaps of credit for bringing the frenetic action to coherent life while simultaneously filming the only footage to be used. Thanks to the first-person nature of the movie though, our ‘leading man’ is unfairly anonymous, only fleetingly appearing on camera once.
The supporting cast is as crazy and bizarre as the film itself. Hayley Bennett (“The Equalizer”) is suitably alluring as Henry’s wife and romantic motivation while Danila Kozlovsky (“Vampire Academy”) plays super-powered villain Akon like he’s channelling Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor by way of The Venture Bros’ Pete White. It’s Sharlto Copley who steals the show with a performance that’s constantly oscillating between delightful and WTF? He’s also responsible for the film’s single most outstanding scene, a surreal and profoundly Python-esque song and dance number that feels like it was lifted directly from discarded footage from “The Meaning Of Life”.
Ultimately, though, the story is too chaotic and disjointed and the characters too thinly drawn to engage with and sustain the gimmick for the full 90-odd minutes. It simply can’t sustain the energy and wit of the director’s inventive and kinetic first-person music videos for the band Biting Elbows which served as dry runs for this feature-length attempt. Visually striking, frantically ambitious, knowingly humourous but absolutely not cinematic, this is the rare movie that may actually be better the smaller the screen it’s viewed on is. Cult status surely awaits, and you can expect it to shift a lot more copies once VR headsets hit the market.