By James Hancock April 7th, 2016
With the viral success of Russian filmmaker Ilya Naishuller’s music video ‘Bad Motherfucker’ (directed for the band Biting Elbows), it was a foregone conclusion that he would be given the green light to use the same approach in a feature film. Contrary to popular opinion, Naishuller does not take his inspiration for his style of filmmaking from the first person shooter genre so many gamers love in countless franchises like Call of Duty, Halo and Counter Strike. Apparently he got the idea when one of his friends strapped a GoPro camera to his head while practicing Parkour. He found the footage to be incredibly immersive and Naishuller immediately began experimenting with the format. Flash forward a few years later, with nothing but one music video under his belt and the help of a small army of the best hellraising stuntmen one can find in Russia, Naishuller has made a debut feature film that will be quite an audacious calling card for him in the years to come. Writing a traditional review of this movie does not even make that much sense. There’s not a lot of nuance here to digest and analyze. If you like the trailer, you’ll like the movie. Put simply, Hardcore Henry is 96 minutes of bloody mayhem, destruction, insanely beautiful women, pulse pounding music and best of all (depending upon one’s point of view) next to no plot of any kind. Style over substance appears to have been the official mantra of every single person involved on the movie. My advice is to grab the rowdiest crowd of moviegoers you can find, have a few drinks, turn your brain off and then sit back for a very entertaining ride that provides more over the top, hyper stylized violence and sex appeal than any ten conventional action films put together.
The screening I attended tonight opened with a brief video Q&A featuring the director Ilya Naishuller and the movie’s co-star Sharlto Copley. They talked a lot about how this movie could only have been made in Russia. While Russian stuntmen and action choreographers are incredibly professional, at the same time they move very quickly and get most scenes finished in the same amount of time most American crews would still be asking for permission to shoot at all. Somehow, only one crew member required stitches the entire shoot and they only broke about twelve of their GoPro cameras. I was enjoying the video tremendously, but I could tell my crowd was getting restless. I’m not sure how the majority of them heard about this specific screening but clearly these were not cinephiles. They talked and yelled throughout the movie, left their phones on and in general indulged in the type of behavior that would typically have me shouting at my fellow audience members in rage. But with Hardcore Henry, it is pretty much impossible to have the movie experience ruined so I just rolled with it. This film is a purely visceral experience for the eyes and ears that makes the viewer feel like they’re experiencing every stunt or act of violence firsthand. Some scenes are more effective than others, but there are a few scenes that are pretty mind blowing and overall I had a great time from start to finish. Hardcore gamers will definitely find themselves feeling an irrepressible itch to get back to their gaming console as fast as possible while watching the movie. So while I’m not remotely interested in seeing a bunch of copycat films shot in the same style anytime soon I have to admit that the experiment of Hardcore Henry has paid off. Ilya Naishuller has accomplished that rare feat of injecting new blood into the tired action genre. Whatever he does next, I can promise it won’t be boring.
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