Some frenetic films have been described as live-action video games, but Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry takes that criticism up a notch by actually strapping viewers into a live-action video game. We act out all of the disorienting, brutal action sequences. It’s the gimmick behind Man Bites Dog injected with Crank’s epinephrine.
Hardcore Henry is a film for gamers. Modern successes like Call of Duty are referenced in the film’s advertising, but the movie’s story often had me feeling nostalgic for Nintendo 64’s Perfect Dark. Not only does Naishuller’s crazy movie has hints of sci-fi, but all of the strategy, gunplay, and hand-to-hand combat was akin to what Joanna Dark demonstrated on the N64. Any movie goer that has ever played a first-person shooter will identify with Hardcore Henry and its different “levels” – it’s where all of the fun stems from.
The filmmaking behind Harcorde Henry is nothing short of gobsmacking. We often catch ourselves wondering how the stunt performers carried out their directions while keeping the audience in check, and how the actors were integrated into the seamless special effects. There are limited cuts in Hardcore Henry, but the filmmaker isn’t afraid to fast-forward through transitions (either through traditional edits or Henry’s glitches).
A bit more insight into the characters would’ve been nice though. The trope-ridden story tends to gloss over crucial details that would help the audience care about where the film is headed or who it’s about. Hardcore Henry’s excuse is that it comprehends how much style it has as opposed to substance. To compensate and hopefully please audiences, Ilya Naishuller has pumped the viewing experience to the extreme. If the narrative doesn’t cut it, he at least wants to give the audience the warped insanity they expect.
Then, there’s the issue of motion sickness: you will feel plenty of it. The camera whips around so much in Hardcore Henry that – I guarantee – you will either close your eyes or look away from the screen momentarily. Personally, I experienced the shaky queasiness during outnumbered fist fights, though a warped use of Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ helped me laugh on through. I also discovered a new fear of heights when Henry started scaling a building or taking part in fast-paced parkour. Hardcore Henry has all the fun of a night of drinking, and the nausea of a hangover.
I was overall pleased after my screening of Hardcore Henry. My only advice to movie goers is to remember Ilya Naishuller’s film is an experiment – not all of it will hit the bullseye. Oh, and bring a barf bag – just in case.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie