Regardless of the reviews the film has received, theres no denying that Hardcore Henry is one of the most unique action movies you’ll likely ever get the chance to see. First-time filmmaker Ilya Naishuller took the collective gripes of gamers playing year’s worth of video games and saying, “Yo, bro, we should make a movie like this!” and actually went out and made that feature film a reality. The idea was to make a film entirely from the perspective of the titular hero, who must fight his way through Moscow to save his scientist wife from an evil telekinetic Eurotrash warlord. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but the real question is: How did he pull it off?
Hardcore Henry all started with a music video, specifically two music videos directed by Naishuller for his band, Biting Elbows, that ended up being mini dry-runs for Hardcore Henry. Using a GoPro camera, Naishuller directed the music video for “The Stampede” in 2011, which shows a man trying to steal a secret object out of an office building safe and fighting his way out — all in first person.
Naishuller told The Verge, the idea came from recording himself on a bad snowboarding trip. “I had bought a GoPro and I was snowboarding in Italy. I don’t know why I bought it.”
He then gave the camera to a friend to record some of his parkour skills, which gave Naishuller the idea for “The Stampede.” He revisited the first person method for the band’s next music video, “Bad Motherfucker,” which went viral because of its off the wall, carnage-filled ridiculousness. A day after it was uploaded to YouTube, Naishuller got a phone call from Russian film director and producer Timur Bekmambatov (the dude behind Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Wanted) about turning the idea into a feature film.
“I said that’s a terrible idea, I don’t think it works at 90 minutes. I was just as hesitant then as people who hear about it for the first time are now,” Naishuller told Slashfilm. But he soon came around to the idea of expanding the first person perspective to a feature film, and set out to do some research and development on how to achieve even more batshit crazy angles and crazier action.
Naishuller settled on a custom-made rig that positions two GoPro Hero 3 cameras on a helmet worn by the camera operator, who would perform in the action on-set. The rig was dubbed the “Adventure Mask,” and you can even pre-order one right now. The masked technique was so strenuous, that more than 30 rig prototypes were destroyed and the movie went through three separate directors of photography, with Naishuller and about 11 other specialized stuntmen stepping in to perform as Henry.
As Naishuller explained to Slashfilm, they’d simply outfit the proper stuntperson with the rig and let them have at it: “The guy who has to get on a horse? That’s a horse wrangler. The guy who falls out of the helicopter? That’s a base jumper. The guy who gets set on fire is the guy who usually gets set on fire.”
The result is an absolutely outrageous, borderline incomprehensible movie that should satisfy gamers and action fans alike. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s a perfect example that there are still unexplored areas of filmmaking out there. If only every pioneering film could be as nuts as Hardcore Henry.
Hardcore Henry is in theaters now.