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A One-Trick Sci-Fi Movie Was Forgotten Moments After it Came Out. It Shouldn’t Have Been.

Sometimes a gimmick isn’t a bad thing.

STX Films

As long as we’re making movies, some will be sold with gimmicks. Maybe it’s an inventive structure, like Clue: The Movie’s multiple endings or Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’s interactive plot. Or maybe it’s a new point of view, like in Unfriended or Searching. A successful gimmick can kickstart a trend, while those seen as too strange or difficult will never be replicated. This is often judged a failure, but for one 2015 movie, its uniqueness only helps it stand out more.

Hardcore Henry came from humble beginnings: director Ilya Naishuller studied film, but left to focus on his band, Biting Elbows. In 2013, he directed and starred in a music video shot entirely from a character’s point of view, creating a smooth, continuous take that looked more like a first-person shooter than a music video.

This led to his directorial feature debut, which took the POV concept and pushed it to the limit. Not only does it keep the first-person viewpoint feeling novel for 96 minutes, but it tells a novel sci-fi story. That’s hard to do when the main character is unable to speak.

Unlike other action movies, you’re rarely given a breather. The movie rushes from one chase scene to the next, abbreviated by what could only be described as cutscenes that move the plot along in absurd ways. That was a point of criticism upon release; reviewers felt Hardcore Henry relied too heavily on a gimmick that got old in a hurry.

However, the movie doesn’t just show off the complex helmet-like GoPro rig Naishuller created, but his genuine flair for action movie choreography. It’s no wonder he would go on to direct the Bob Odenkirk action vehicle Nobody in 2021. The fact there hasn’t been another movie like Hardcore Henry is a testament to its success, not its failure. It revolutionized the micro-genre of point-of-view filmmaking to the point where any similar attempts would be seen as derivative.

The camera rig used to capture the first-person view of Hardcore Henry.

STX Films

Many action movies can be described as fun, but none truly reach Hardcore Henry’s level. It’s like putting on a VR helmet without the motion sickness, or playing a video game without worrying about getting stuck. A typical action movie consists of a gripping story, a few big stars, complex fight choreography, and big-budget stunts. This movie makes an economical choice, stripping the budget and story to bare bones and pouring every ounce of heart into the action. If you’re willing to weigh the grading a little differently, you’ll have a great time.

Even if you won’t meet Hardcore Henry at its level, no action movie education is complete without it. It’s weird, it’s no-holds-barred, and it allows itself to be silly, an increasingly rare trait in the world of self-serious grimdark thrillers. If you want to raise your heart rate without leaving the couch, catch Hardcore Henry before it’s too late.

Hardcore Henry is streaming on Netflix until July 31.