Last week, a full trailer dropped for Hardcore Henry, the utterly INSANE first-person, science fiction action thriller from writer/director Ilya Naishuller and producer Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch), and we can safely say that it’s only the tip of this adrenaline-fueled iceberg. Formerly titled Hardcore, the film is Naishuller’s feature film debut based on the music video for his Moscow punk band Biting Elbows, and to call it groundbreaking is a serious understatement. Filmed entirely from the first-person perspective on GoPro cameras, Hardcore Henry puts you in the driver’s seat as Henry, a man who wakes up with absolutely no memory of who or where he is.
Henry is literally raised from the dead by his wife (Haley Bennett), who begins to strap cybernetic limbs onto his battered body as she tries to explain his past. But before she can finish (or activate his voice module, leaving Henry essentially mute), she is kidnapped by a powerful warlord with, let’s say special abilities (Danila Kozlovsky). Henry finds himself completely alone in Moscow, where everyone seems to want him dead. His only friend is Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), a mysterious man who may or may not be on Henry’s side. The result is part film, part video game, part roller coaster, and entirely unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. (Watch the trailer above for just a taste of the action.)
We were lucky enough to screen the film a few weeks ago, and man — Hardcore Henry is not. messing around. It’s like The Raid and the church scene from Kingsman: The Secret Service has a really, REALLY f–cked up baby. And while the first-person perspective could easily become gimmicky, here it is insanely effective. Amidst gorgeously choreographed, brutally violent fight scenes and chase sequences, you lose track of the movie itself and start to feel as if you, in fact, are Henry. Pumped full of adrenaline, you’ll find yourself impressed, disgusted, overwhelmed, and entertained by the nonstop chaos as you/Henry make your way from rooftop sniper scenes to a bloody brothel to haunting abandoned buildings in Moscow. When the credits rolled after 90 minutes of breakneck pace, I realized I was clutching the theater seats and holding my breath. Yes, it’s that good.
Bringing Henry to Life
After watching the film, we spoke with director Ilya Naishuller to find out more about the filmmaking process. Once he teamed up with producer Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch), Naishuller set out to make, quite simply, the very best version of his vision, first realized in his band’s first-person music video. Using GoPro cameras and improvising locations and action sequences based on what they discovered each day shooting on location in Moscow, Naishuller and his team ended up with a movie that truly feels gritty and real, instead of using colorization or heavy-handed dialogue to fake it.
Thankfully, the first-time feature director was also adamant that practical effects and stunts were used whenever possible. Sometimes they’d use minor CG to amp up blood-splattered walls, but all the brains and broken limbs and rough-and-tumble moments were created as authentically as possible. In fact, Henry himself is a real person doing his own stunts. Set up with a GoPro helmet, the actor portraying our mute protagonist was flung from buildings and thrown from explosions — all to get that very visceral feeling Hardcore Henry evokes. It’s no wonder that Sharlto Copley called it “the most challenging film [he’s] ever made, hands down,” when we spoke with him last March.
And while the film is certainly dark (HOO BOY, is it dark), it’s very much inspired by Quentin Tarantino and Paul Verhoeven, so there’s plenty of humor peppered throughout. Sharlto Copley’s Jimmy is a multifaceted character, to say the very least, and is consistently unique and playful, even in the face of very real danger. And the film’s villain, the eerily beautiful Kozlovsky (an actual Russian heartthrob playing very against type here) has a delightfully maniacal tone as he stalks and toys with Henry all over streets and alleyways of Moscow.
When we asked Naishuller what he ultimately hoped to achieve with Hardcore Henry, he said that he wanted people to have a great ride, and to watch it again and again. He paid special attention to the details in the background of every shot, so that on third and fourth viewings, audiences would still have something new to discover. After one viewing, I am honestly dying to experience this madhouse again — blood, broken bones, and all.
Make sure you go see Hardcore Henry when it hits theaters on April 8, 2016 — support awesome, original ideas! (But maybe don’t bring the kids. Or the squeamish. You’ve been warned.)
Rachel Heine is the Editor-in-Chief of the Nerdist and absolutely LOVES badass action and martial arts movies. Send her recommendations on Twitter @RachelHeine.