Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #720
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 8, 2016
Country of Origin: Russia, United States
Box Office: $14,300,000
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director: Ilya Naishuller
Producers: Timur Bekmambetov, Inga Vainshtein Smith, Ilya Naishuller, Ekaterina Kononenko
Screenplay: Ilya Naishuller
Visual Effects: Dan Cayer, James David Hattin, Marek Jezo, Sergey Muravev, Duy Tan Nguyen, John Pierce, Colin Strause, One Danny Yoon
Cinematography: Sergey Valyaev, Andrey Dementiev, Ilya Naishuller, Pasha Kapinos, Vsevolod Kaptur, Fedor Lyass
Score: Dasha Charusha
Editing: Steve Mirkovich
Studios: Huayi Brothers Pictures, Bazelevs, Versus Pictures
Distributor: STX Entertainment
Stars: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Andrei Dementiev, Sergey Valyaev, Ilya Naishuller, Dasha Charusha, Svetlana Ustinova, Tim Roth, Cyrus Arnold, Will Stewart
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Caustic “Macro/micro”
 Biting Elbows “Hard As Nails”
 Frank Sinatra “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”
 The Stranglers “Let Me Down Easy”
 Queen “Don’t Stop Me Now”
 The Sonics “Strychnine”
 Biting Elbows “For The Kill”
Until I began my tenure as Keeper of the Crimson Quill, I was something of a hardcore gamer. Whatever spare time I had on my hands was ploughed into whatever virtual realities they depicted and barely a day passed when I didn’t save the world from one impending global threat or another. I was always looking for the next big immersive experience and found my niche in first-person shooters. Any keen gamers amongst us will be all too familiar with this particular breed as they place you right in the breeches of the main protagonist and any motion is captured from a POV perspective. This affords the player a far more intimate vantage of the action, to the point where they actually become the hero, representing the closest you can come to truly interactive gameplay. The likes of FPS granddaddies Doom and Quake brought this particular strain to the mass market, while modern-day efforts such as Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare have continued to build on the momentum, shifting millions upon millions of units in the process.
Traditionally video games haven’t translated particularly successfully to the silver screen and, while Andrzej Bartkowiak’s cinematic adaptation of Doom offered a fleeting glimpse of how the first person viewpoint could be implemented back in 2005, it was universally regarded as both ineffectual and disposable. Giulio De Santi’s Hotel Inferno then attempted to spread this gimmick across its 80 minute running time in 2013 and deserves kudos for going all in. That said, for all its bountiful splatter, it failed miserably in immersing its audience as it forgot to provide us with any real reason to care what the hell was going down. Moreover, it was a giddying experience for all the wrong reasons and left this particular viewer nauseated in more ways than one. Seemingly this approach was just a step too far and it would take a brave filmmaker to attempt something so audacious again on such damning evidence.
However, Russian first timer Ilya Naishuller has done precisely that with Hardcore Henry, broadening a concept he came up with for music videos for his band, Biting Elbows. Using a customized GoPro face rig mounted on an “Adventure Mask” and an open-source software called Blender to create all manner of outlandish visual effects, his team then edited the results together into one long continuous first-person experience, using Indiegogo proceeds to help fund his extravagant labor of love. While the film’s theatrical run was shorter than a midget’s inside leg, it did manage to turn a rather tidy profit before swandiving from our screens and certainly got folk talking. The key word here is divisive as those who have gotten hands-on with Naishuller’s experimental one-off seem to fall into one of two distinct camps: those who despise it like the black plague and those who dig the living shit out of it and wish only to cradle Henry in their arms and plant a big sloppy one on his visor. I’ll give you three guesses where I’m stationed and fret not as you should only be needing one.
You see, Hardcore Henry achieved the unthinkable by immersing me from the very first frame to its last, somehow managing to draw me in close while also making things personal. It’s ironic really as, while it may seem like a given that you’d form an emotional bond with a character you effectively play, it’s all too easy to feel detached from the on-screen action if it fails to create a virtual reality worth stepping into. This is made all the more demanding by the fact that the titular thrill-seeker is rendered mute for the entirety of his outing as he can hardly emote with his face now can he? Despite the challenges faced, Naishuller nails that shit like the proverbial donkey tail and brings us in for that hug every time there’s sufficient seconds on the clock. To be clear, you have to grab what you get here, as this film shifts like rocket-propelled feces in a Nerf blaster and seldom sees fit to pause for a solitary breath. But I still came away with a fistful of reasons to cherish it.
At any rate, if I’m going to attempt to breach such an unconventional number as Hardcore Henry, it seems only correct that I celebrate its core concept to its fullest and offer up a flavor of exactly what it’s like to slip into Henry’s running shoes first-hand. This is where inner monologue comes in handy as, with no active voice-box to vocalize his constant flux, this is all about ushering my readership into his personal head space and making you feel right at home. Given that first-person shooters formed the crux of my staple gaming diet, I should be able to jack right in among his nuts and bolts without too much distress. One way or another, you should know whether or not this movie is for you by the time I eject and I’ll be able to rest easy in the knowledge that I’ve done my part. Just so we’re clear, I reckon I’ll be needing that breather. See you on the flip-side, old beans.
What the fisted fuck? I’ve woken up in some strange places in my time (none of which I can recall currently), but a tank of blackened juice may just take the biscuit. What the hell is this place? A laboratory? And how the hell did I wind up here anyway? I can’t remember a thing right now although I’m not altogether sure I want to. They’re definitely my tattoos, there’s no question that’s my arm and leg, but I’m a more than a little disconcerted by the stumps if I’m honest. What happened to me? Jesus Christ, I’m a goddamn vegetable. Someone had better explain what the hell is going on and fast as there’s plenty rude about this awakening. Hold on, perhaps this chick can shed some light on my current predicament. Judging by the lab coat she’s wearing and the look of concern spread across her pretty little face, I’m guessing I won’t much care for the elucidation.
Well she sure perked up fast. Charmed I’m sure although I’m a little bowled over by your revelation if I’m honest. So we were married once upon a time then? We still are married? Things are moving a little faster than I would have preferred. That said, she’s certainly my type. Hell, Estelle is every man’s type right? Seems no harm or foul in rolling with it I suppose, particularly given that my doting wife has just seen fit to replace any vacant limbs with supposedly hi-tech cybernetic replacements. Moreover, she appears genuinely moved by my revival, as though she’s spent far too long aching for a reunion she never thought would come. She seems convinced that it will all come back to me in time so there’s nothing to lose in following her lead surely? I just wish I didn’t feel so damn groggy.
I also would have liked my orientation period to have gone slightly smoother. I haven’t the faintest clue who that Akan fellow is but, should I be hedging bets, then the smart money would be on maniacal nutbag hell-bent on global domination. Call it a hunch but, had it not been for Estelle’s fast thinking, then I’m assured I would’ve ended up like the scientists he just murdered in cold blood right before my very eyes. This albino fuck is claiming her research as his own corporate property and has a vested interest in me, a somewhat unhealthy one I might add. If the missus is looking for a reconciliation, then she’s gone about it the right way by saving my skin and offering up the last escape pod off what appears some kind of airship. Goddamn it’s a long way down to Earth from here. Regardless of her noble gesture and indeed because of it, there’s no way I’m taking this dive without her.
You ever staggered out of one shit storm directly into another, even larger shitstorm? Then I fully expect your empathy right now as my day just got a whole lot worse. I suspect we landed in Moscow, Mother Russia, but sightseeing doesn’t appear to be on the agenda here. No sooner had we “touched down”, than every fucker with a badge and semi-automatic weapon has made it abundantly clear that we’re not at all welcome. In the resulting fracas, I’ve misplaced my beloved, and that will be number one of one priorities the very moment I’m not dodging shrapnel. I will say this, those fresh prosthetics certainly earned their credits. Amnesiac I may be but muscles possess their own memory and you can’t rob a man of his natural instinct or drive to survive when the shit starts flying. Now to go get me some answers. If only I had the faintest idea where to locate them.
Thank fuck for Jimmy. I’d never have made it out of there had it not been for my trusty getaway driver and he proved most informative right up to the moment his brains were spattered all over the windscreen like snot in a snow storm. Can I not shit a break here? Anyways, Jimmy said something about my implants running out of power if I don’t find myself a docking station quick-smart so that is precisely what I’ll do both to honor his memory and because he made it crystal that I’m a goner if I don’t. I’m a little bummed if I’m honest as, while the time we spent together was all too brief, I actually kind of liked the fella. Enthusiasm will take you far in this world and Jimmy wasn’t to be found wanting in this department, God rest his soul. However, I shall mourn his untimely demise at a later juncture as time she’s a wasting and the shooters responsible certainly ain’t spendthrift with their seconds. Back to being public enemy number one then.
Say what you will about public transport but that short bus ride out of the kill zone turned out to be quite the eye-opener. You see, intelligence can come from the most unexpected places and the mouth of a stinking, inebriated bum certainly qualifies as unforeseen. Actually serendipitous would better describe our brisk summit as this decidedly unfragrant nomad only turned out to be fucking Jimmy didn’t he. I know right? Granted, he may have looked a tad worse for wear but that playful twinkle was back right where it belonged, with an accelerated sense of mischief to boot. According to Jimmy, I’ll be required to track down one of Akan’s associates, Slick Dimitry, break in, kill him, open up his ribcage, take out his beating heart, and feast on it! Mercifully he was kidding about the last part, although that’s about all I could get before he riled some goon with a flamethrower and got his odorous ass torched, along with around thirty other commuters.
If I was in any doubt of why they called this hard target Slick, then I’m not any longer. Getting in was easy and fun too thanks to the mad free running and close combat skills I appear to have soundly licked; while finding him wasn’t a great deal more challenging either. Catching this gremlin, on the other hand, proved far more of a headache, a sore point for Dimitry come the business end of this hot pursuit. While I’d love to marvel at his own cybernetics, he’s got something I need and that eleventh-hour recharge is finally on the cards. Jimmy #2 would be so proud of me, if his charred ashes weren’t currently being swept into the Moscow sewage system as we speak.
Okay so Jimmy is now officially my personal hero. Taking a good Jimmy down may not prove a great stretch, but keeping him there is evidently fruitless as those Jimmies continue to pop up unannounced with startling regularity. He gets additional props for instigating excursion number three as I feel I’ve done more than enough wet work to earn myself some downtime, and where better than a red-lit bordello filled to the brim with hospitable hoochies? With the floozy count so high, it made sense that two Jimmies were on hand to share the spoils. I do wish the real Jimmy would please stand up as I would hazard a guess his first and second choices wouldn’t be a coke-huffing Lothario and eggheaded dink in a sweater vest but the former would certainly explain his high energy. At any rate, I managed to get my charging pump changed in the nick of time before that Akan fuck and his cronies well and truly gatecrashed the party.
There’s a definite running theme here as I would never have made it out of that knocking shop alive if it weren’t for two searing hot dominatrices and yet another Jimmy in the parking lot. I’m getting used to my primary method of transportation being the seat of my pants but less acclimatized to watching Jimmy “get it” just as we’re getting to that game plan. This time the poor bastard was shelled by a rampant tank of all things and it was left to ghillie-suited sniper Jimmy to lead me away from the frontlines. Providing no more stray cats are lobbed among the pigeons (and that’s a decidedly big “if” at this juncture), then my objective is now clear thanks to Akan and his foolhardy admission that he currently has my sweet Estelle in transit. I think it’s high time I pay a visit to his multi-tiered headquarters, put some heads to rest, and rescue myself a fair maiden. Any of you Jimmies up for riding shotgun?
There we have it in a nutshell. Hardcore Henry has but a singular ambition, that being full and undivided audience immersion. Throwing in the promise of Estelle’s loving touch as its bargaining tool, it uses pinpoint aesthetics to gain our empathy and fuses our perception to its lead’s quite brilliantly by doing everything shy of physically handing us a joypad. I could harp on until the Jimmies dry up about the precision of the choreography or sheer wealth of deviously designed set-pieces, none of which feel anything other than intimate in their portrayal of imminent peril. Naishuller and his team evidently have a firm grasp of the videogames from which he draws inspiration and he flings the bodies left and right like rag dolls to provide the same feeling of giddy exhilaration and empowerment. However, he’s also not against tossing a dash of vulnerability into the melting pot and it’s the constant risk to any friends and loved ones we meet during this stint in his savage sandbox that makes failure such an unthinkable option.
Sharlto Copley does a masterful job as our many tour guides and we’ll feel every last pang of sadness as yet another Jimmy succumbs, when we’re not dying laughing from his numerous genuinely witty quips. Haley Bennett is no less magnanimous as the reason we didn’t throw the towel in back on the airship and convinces us that she’ll make every last heroic worth the time once we jump through the incessant hoops keeping us apart.
Meanwhile, Danila Kozlovsky comes from the same stellar stock as the very best in Bond villains, with characteristics every bit as distinctive as his look and a bona fide “last boss” swagger about him, making for quite the fearsome adversary. If the plot feels at all convoluted then that likely has something to do with the fact that it’s damn well suppose to be. We learn as Henry does and it matters not whether it makes a lick of sense as it’s all about making that checkpoint without getting leveled by constant ever-escalating threat from every conceivable angle (and a few new ones we may not have previously entertained).
Any keen gamers reading this really should already be on-board as Hardcore Henry represents the closest I have ever seen to taking part in a live-action videogame. This is evident through the approach Naishuller adopts for his narrative, commencing with the “tutorial” period and culminating in a final hurrah more than worthy of any endgame I ever participated in. But its the hyperbolic hijinks that pummel our senses repeatedly that truly lends his film the “one more go” flavor of its computerized counterparts.
From its gloriously 007-esque opening credits to crunching final frame, the adrenaline seldom ceases pumping and each spike of activity is so well manufactured that you’re left with little option other than surrendering in sheer awe and disbelief. Indeed, I would liken this to being jacked in to Johnny Five while John Woo’s entire back catalogue is given a 64x speed run out, such is the breathlessness it encourages. Had I mentioned that the soundtrack rocks bells by the way? Don’t shoot the messenger, I’ve been a little predisposed here.
Regrettably, for every one of you willing to wire Hardcore Henry to your diodes, there will likely be another filling the recycle bin in disgust. I get this as it is certainly an acquired taste and hardly constitutes as a tranquil way to spend 96 minutes. That said, what could easily have become one long gimmick with no real pay-off, effortlessly transcends its origins as it provides its addressee with ample reasons to care.
Should this demo leave you perched on the fence, then I’d suggest checking out the trailer post-haste. If you can make it through that without desiring only to gouge your eyes out with a spoon, then I’d say you’re pretty much primed to jack in. Stock up on health packs, take heed of your Jimmies, and I’ll see you at the Game Over screen fellow actioneers. For the record, I’ll be the one hovering mischievously above the tab that says continue.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: How do you like that splatter? It matters not as Hardcore Henry caters for every last taste imaginable up to and including bad. Heads pop like primed pimples, well placed frags obliterate body parts, beating hearts are plucked from wide open cavities (but not eaten), spinning helicopter blades fashion human origami, blunt objects bludgeon and sharp ones puncture. Yet nary have I felt so vague in my recollection. That is to say that Grueheads will certainly not be left wanting and all other will have to be content with retching.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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