Hardcore Henry (2015)

(On Blu-ray, November 2016) I can certainly see why a lot of people would not like Hardcore Henry. It is, after all, a quasi-literal film transcription of a first-person shooter videogame, with much of the nonsense usually associated with that kind of entertainment: Similar plots, excessive violence, deemphasized characters, and blatant appeals to teenagers. The first-person perspective sustained over more than 90 minutes is dizzying, the image quality of the Go-Pro cameras isn’t always that great and the thin story intentionally feels like a string of cut-scenes run in-between action set pieces. In other words, while there may not have been a lot of first-person action movies lately, Hardcore Henry still does feel intensely familiar. This being said: I’m a sucker for novelty, and there’s a lot that I actually like in the movie, even while acknowledging its faults. It’s bringing a new (ish) grammar to movies, imposed by the limitations of its chosen format, and it’s interesting to see the film go through elaborate hoops (Cybernetic enhancements! Missing voice box! Clones!) to justify familiar videogame conventions. The action sequences are interesting to watch, even though the first-person perspective and low-grade cameras do limit their effectiveness. The Moscow setting strikes a nice balance between familiarity and estrangement. The film does brim with moment-to-moment invention from writer/director Ilya Naishuller, especially when the main character has to emote without the use of a face or a voice. The black humour isn’t always successful (and often feel juvenile), but it does help enliven what could have been a far more gruelling experience. It almost goes without saying that thanks to the first-person perspective, Hardcore Henry is probably best appreciated on a small screen as so not to trigger motion sickness. It won’t be for everyone … but few movies are.

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