‘Hardcore Henry’: The Marriage Of Action Film And Video Game

Hardcore Henry is the kind of movie that compels its makers to jokingly call for “splash zones” in theaters i.e. having the first few rows in theaters reserved for nausea-prone viewers who can watch the movie and vomit in peace.

For those not so easily made queasy, Hardcore Henry promises a first-of-its-kind experience at the cinemas next month.

The film has been billed as world’s first point-of-view action feature. What that means is the audience will see the proceedings from the protagonist Henry’s point of view for the entire length of the movie (as he relentlessly searches for his abducted wife and fights the bad guys).

Which also means that you won’t be seeing the hero of the film, the eponymous Henry, for the total 95-minute duration of the movie. Only Henry’s legs and hands would be visible. The makers suggest that Henry can be a placeholder for the viewers themselves (“You”), exactly the way it happens when you play a first-person video game and “become” the protagonist.

Hardcore Henry does come across as a bone-busting, blood-spattering video game come to glorious life. Take a look at its trailer.

And here’s the lengthier version that came out last month.

Hardcore Henry, the directorial debut of Russian filmmaker Ilya Naishuller, had its U.S. premiere at the SXSW festival recently. According to Deadline, the SXSW crowd just lapped up all the madness Henry threw their way.

“The crowd at the Paramount theater ate it up, cheering every dismemberment, every broken limb, every mutilation, every comical murder as if they were seeing the film’s first instance of them. Most folks stuck around for the post-screening Q&A portion. At least half of the questions were from curious aspiring filmmakers who wanted to know, ‘how’d you do that?'”

Naishuller did it with a GoPro camera.

A GoPro is a small action camera i.e. a camera designed for “filming action while being immersed in it.” These cameras are generally used for filming extreme sports and can be attached to pretty much anything — surfboards, helmets, skis, balloons, car wheels, and shark fins. For Hardcore Henry, the GoPro was mounted on a special mask-like rig worn by Henry (played by 12 different actors at various points in the movie).

The Verge reported that Hardcore Henry used the expertise of three different directors of photography, one of them even opting out of the gig because of a herniated disk caused by the heavy GoPro rig.

Initially, Naishuller wasn’t too keen on making a GoPro movie as his debut vehicle but allowed himself to be persuaded by producer Timor Bekmambetov, who had come across the young director’s work online and was completely bowled over.

Bekmambetov, director of the wonderful Night Watch and the upcoming Ben-Hur, told the Verge that as a producer, he was not into triteness and predictability.

I’m not looking for good, predictable filmmakers. I’m trying to find projects and people who want to do something that’s never been done before. There’s not so many people like that in the world! And of course they need to be skilled enough to do it. But mostly it’s brave people. People with the vision and the ambitions to do something that’s never been done before.”

Hardcore Henry hasn’t appeared out of the blue. Naishuller has made POV music videos before, and they have acted as a template of sorts for his much more ambitious feature effort.

The first at the gate was “The Stampede“, a music video for Naishuller’s Russian punk band Biting Elbows. An “office escape” video, “The Stampede” had the main (unseen) character creating mayhem as he tries to escape from his workplace.

“The Stampede” was followed by its “spiritual sequel,” something called “Bad Motherf***er.” This one turned out to be YouTube gold, generating over 32 million views. It also brought Naishuller to Bekmambetov’s notice and kickstarted Hardcore Henry‘s unstoppable journey.

Despite the generally positive media attention for the movie, a question remains: Can a movie sustain itself for 95 minutes based on just one great artifice? Sean Hutchinson, reviewing for Inverse, delivers a punch deadly enough to stop even Henry in his tracks.

“Firing up your N64 and playing GoldenEye is awesome because you get to play James Bond and pump bullets into droves of computer bad guys to win the game. It’s a classic, but have you ever sat for an hour and a half and just watched your friends play GoldenEye? If so, the aching boredom and disorientation that goes along with it will become apparent if you watch Hardcore Henry. Yeah, the action is great and there are cool guns or whatever, but when all is said and done, it’s like watching someone else play a video game for you.”

Do you like your movies to be more like video games? Or do you prefer them the old-fashioned way? Hardcore Henry may just help you make up your mind, once and for all.

[Image via YouTube]