Hardcore Henry (2015)
★★ / ★★★★
Here is a film for people who love first-person shooter video games more than the movies. It moves quickly, there is an ocean violence, and something surprising tends to pop up every ten to fifteen minutes not to serve the story necessarily but for the sake of not losing our attention. It is loud, not particularly intelligent, and highly simplistic in its themes. But it has moments of creativity that amuse, stun, and impress.
We experience the bloody events through the eyes of a man named Henry who is given a second chance at life by a scientist (Haley Bennett) who says she is his wife. Just as the mute and amnesiac Henry is getting accustomed to his new reality of being a body that is part-man, part-robot, a mysterious figure (Danila Kozlovsky) with psychokinetic powers breaks in the sky lab and claims he intends to add Henry to his growing army. Henry and Estelle manage to escape in a pod and land in Moscow.
The first-person perspective amuses because there are numerous instances, especially when the protagonist is forced into awkward body entanglements, when the placement of the head does not at all match the physics. Sometimes it makes more sense if the camera was actually attached to Henry’s neck because that part of the body has more limited movements compared to the head. Not to mention the central character never blinks. He, however, closes his eyes voluntarily when someone asks him to do so.
Those who are sickened, perhaps literally, by Paul Greengrass’ shaky cam in the “Bourne” pictures are likely to walk away without finishing the picture because the level of camera movement here likens that of a violent seizure by comparison. It is relentless and I noticed that the way I adapted was by focusing only in the middle of the screen. Even then there were moments when I had to look away for two seconds and get back in again.
For me, this is a new experience of watching a film—which can be taken as a compliment—because I am used to taking notice and appreciating the entire frame for their details and craft… even in kinetic action movies. Here, by being forced to hone in on the center of the screen, the surprises involving enemies suddenly appearing behind a wall or other forms of threat such as explosions are all the more effective. It offers a sensory experience in its rawest, most uncomfortable form.
Is it worth seeing? Yes, maybe once, and only those who are open to an alternative or experimental way of experiencing the movies. A few action sequences are inspired by Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski’s “The Matrix” as well as Gareth Evans’ “The Raid: Redemption.” The execution in this film isn’t nearly as tight nor as impressive as its inspirations but the insanity is so over-the-top at the times that I found humor and charm in it. However, for a more original, fascinating, extremely daring, hallucinogenic, haunting first-person viewpoint film, I recommend looking into “Enter the Void” by Gaspar Noé.