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Hardcore Henry shows the limits of movies that feel like video games

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 22:52
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(Before It's News)

Hardcore Henry is less a movie you watch and more of a big-screen simulation you experience. The film, shot entirely in fish-eyed first person, with arms and legs flailing below, forces moviegoers into its perspective and then batters them through a mess of frantic action sequences. On a big screen, the effect is literally dizzying: It’s like watching a feature-length, large-format video game controlled by someone else.

With my eyes closed, while gulping down as much oxygen as I could, I did some mental math, calculating the number of steps to the bathroom, how much time I’d need to execute those steps, and how many people I’d have to crawl over to get to the aisle and exit of the movie theater. I was sweating through my T-shirt and experiencing a mild wave of nausea; there was an uneasy feeling in the space below my chest.

I soon came to a realization: I was not hardcore enough for Hardcore Henry, the first-person shooter film directed by Ilya Naishuller, who shares writing credits with screenwriter Will Stewart.

Shot almost entirely on GoPro cameras — the same ones that people strap onto dogs, weather balloons, kayaks, surfboards — Naishuller has created a movie that resembles video games like Call of Duty or Doom, but with the super soldier spirit of the Jason Bourne film franchise. The audience is placed in the head of Henry, a bionic man with no memory, no voice, and no idea that he’s the only thing stopping a telekinetic villain named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) from achieving world domination and killing Henry’s beautiful wife (Haley Bennett). Along the way, an irreverent, pervy guide named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) appears to assign missions for Henry to complete.

The story isn’t all that innovative, but it’s wrapped around an amazing stunt: Thanks to those GoPros, we only see what Henry sees.

Henry nods, and the camera pivots up and down. Henry gets punched in the face, and the camera spasms and whips backward. Henry looks at his feet, and the camera swivels along with him. Henry is shot at, and we turn around with him to see where the bullets are coming from.

This forced perspective is business as usual for first-person video games but brand new to film. And it adds a new dimension to fight scenes, transforming them into immersive, heart-thumping tornadoes.

Compared with flashy, blockbuster behemoths like Star Wars, Marvel’s Avengers franchise, Star Trek, and Batman v Superman, Hardcore Henry stands out because it feels like a fresh, unpredictable experiment that’s in constant, jarring motion, rather than a sleek demonstration of what fight scenes and special effects can do.

Hardcore Henry is essentially a DIY video of a grown man playing out the jittery, frenetic fantasies of an overcaffeinated, testosterone-driven, teenage boy who hasn’t fondled himself in three days.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

When you buy a ticket to movie with the word “hardcore” in its title, there’s an implicit understanding that you’re not here to see Carol. You’re here to see imaginative violence. You’re here to see perfect boobs. You’re here to see characters who cuss like crazy. You’re here to see all three of these things coexist in a scene, possibly set in a whorehouse.

Hardcore Henry makes no apologies. What you see is what you get.

The female characters, even when they’re scientists, are barely clothed. There’s always a hint of lust in their eyes. The fight scenes are bloody, ugly orgies of violence. People’s heads explode. Villains are pulverized into meat sacks. And, yes, the film even delivers a fight scene in a brothel.

But even better than all of those things is Hardcore Henry‘s first-person filming gimmick.

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