Hardcore Henry – Review (*** 1/2)

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Hardcore Henry

You might know writer-director Ilya Naishuller from his viral music videos for his band, Biting Elbows, which depicted an adrenaline-fueled orgy of violence from a first-person view. The videos became so popular that Naishuller managed to parlay that popularity into a $10 million full feature in the same style, and so we have Hardcore Henry.

Henry (whose face is never seen) awakens with no memory and soon enough finds himself desperately trying to rescue his wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett), from the clutches of a telekinetic maniac, Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), with the help of his eccentric pal Jimmy (Sharlto Copley).

Much has been made of Hardcore Henry’s resemblance to a video game, and it’s hard to deny; the delirious first-person perspective may be a good deal rougher and more chaotic than the exchanges we’re used to on our PlayStations, but it’s clearly indebted to the medium, and unquestionably a loving tribute to it.

To some, the shaky camerawork may be too much to stomach, and others may prefer to actually play a video game instead, but as a barmy stylistic exercise, it certainly delivers. The plot may mostly be functional nonsense, but it’s shot through with a wealth of knowing humour, largely by way of Copley’s fantastic sidekick, who even “respawns” in a novel way whenever he gets taken out by the enemy.

Yes, it’s all gimmick, and if filmed conventionally Henry would be a fairly mediocre B-movie, but what a gimmick it is. Though some excessive jump-cutting does take a little of the magic away, the combination of stunts, visual effects and sheer visual bombast make for a mind-bogglingly complex technical feat, especially one delivered on such a scant budget.

Again, if you felt disorientated watching Paul Greengrass’ Bourne movies, you’ll probably want to give this one a miss, and you may end up admiring the concept and bravura filmmaking brio more than the movie itself, but as a demented spiritual successor to the Crank movies (to which it bears an almost suspiciously similar plot), it’s a sure winner.

*** 1/2

Hardcore Henry is in cinemas now

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