Hardcore Henry (2016) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Hardcore Henry (2016)

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Henry wakes up in a lab with no memories and new cybernetic implants.  Estelle, his wife, said this had to be done to save his life.  Soon the lab is under attack by the telekinetic Akan and Henry, with his battery running low, goes on the run.  Ilya Naishuller wrote the screenplay for and directs Hardcore Henry, and stars Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, and Haley Bennett, with Henry played by Ilya Naishuller, Sergey Valyaev, and Andrei Dementiev.

My way of coping with the trials of daily existence is to intellectualize things.  That way, I can start sorting my various emotions and people's reactions to them while forming a list of potential reading or research needed to understand the world better.  I do this so naturally that it's sometimes difficult for me to really communicate how something makes me feel.  So, in the interest of pushing myself outside my comfort zone, here's how I feel about Hardcore Henry:

Hardcore Henry made me feel awesome.  So damn awesome.  Just when I thought the ridiculous escalation of violence and camerawork couldn't get any cooler, director/screenwriter Ilya Naishuller found a new way to make my face erupt in joy.  By the time the climactic fight rolled around, I couldn't contain my giggling anymore.  Each punch, each cut, each bit of chemical intake - it all made me so joyful I wanted to stop Hardcore Henry before the credits so I could watch it again.  I immediately started texting my cineaste buddies and folks I thought would appreciate the lunatic aweseomeness of Hardcore Henry - "Watch Hardcore Henry.  Now.  It's more than its gimmick.  It's insane."

Naishuller mixes in a healthy dose of body horror among the many manic action sequences.

Plainly communicating what happens in Hardcore Henry doesn't come close to replicating the feeling of watching the insanity unfold.  This is the kind of movie where a telekinetic albino Russian criminal hurls obstacles at our cyborg hero on a jungle gym while brutalizing white-clad goons who looked like they escaped the set of THX 1138.  And that's not even the most bonkers scene of Hardcore Henry.

Maybe you'll find it tiring or simplistic.  Both would be fair criticisms but not something I could relate to.  One of the main through-lines of my thinking throughout Hardcore Henry was how biotechnology, computer advancements, and cinematic techniques are helping us push the human body beyond the brink of its known capabilities.  All the actors who play Henry, including Naishuller himself, Sergey Valyaev, and Andrei Dementiev, pushed their pain to the side as long as possible to take turns in Naishuller's magnetic mask GoPro contraption for thousands of shots - all edited together to make a seamless movie that's equal parts body horror, cartoon, action, and humor.

How to make a first-person movie feel fresh through its run-time is answered one way in Naishuller's plot.  The key is constant escalation.  Once Naishuller establishes the most basic of plots - Henry wants to save his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) from the telekinetic criminal Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) - it's off to the races.  Naishuller constantly reshapes our perception of interior and exterior space, with one bravura early action sequence logically shifting from a white and sterile room, which hides a musty and multicolored interior, to the blinding and bloodied bodies littering the exterior.  "Nature red in tooth and claw" is a matter of perception, and if we can manufacture the next step of human evolution to fit our image of perfection, it leads that Naishuller's visuals match the "ideal" action beat the human body has to endure along the way.

Any questions I want to entertain about Hardcore Henry are doubled by the presence of Sharlto Copley.  Copley is no stranger to movies that seem to be light action fluff on the surface only to reveal questions about manufactured humanity when we dig deeper.  Henry is aided in his violent quest by Jimmy , a slick soldier, also an alcoholic bum, stoned hippie, clean-cut scientist, '80s British punk (all played by Copley), and a few others I'm forgetting and will slap myself later once I remember.  Naishuller uses Jimmy for psychological questions like Henry is used for physical.  If biology can be programmed, at what point can the personality resulting from that biology be manufactured as well?  Should we feel bad for clones that are given specific traits from the moment they're created?

Potentially fun drinking game - take a gulp every time Jimmy reintroduces himself in Hardcore Henry.

Hardcore Henry stirred these questions in me but it is by no means a "serious" exploration of these ideas and is all the better for it.  Stuffy presentation would get in the way of the little moments of absurd humor, like when Henry - dripping with blood - wipes his shoes on a rug so he doesn't track mud through one of Jimmy's homes.  The soundtrack is similarly in on the joke, politely halting a thump-heavy electronic beat so the naked Henry can assure a confused woman he just needs pants, only to jump back into the beat when the time comes for Henry to spring back into action.

Naishuller did not hold anything back from Hardcore Henry.  From the opening shots of the bloody perception of the freshly rebirthed Henry, the cackling villain hurling the corpses of engineered soldiers, and a quiet (for this movie anyway) detour into one of the most polite and well-armed strip clubs put to film - not a damn thing is held back.  I can and will continue to intellectualize my feelings when I watch cinema, but Hardcore Henry is the first in a long time I've been able to sit back and just whisper, "Damn."

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Hardcore Henry (2016)

Screenplay written and directed by Ilya Naishuller.
Starring Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, and Haley Bennett, with Henry played by Ilya Naishuller, Sergey Valyaev, and Andrei Dementiev.

Posted by Andrew

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