By Alex R. Esparra
Hardcore Henry is the future of Cinema
Today’s media is more personal. Many people own handheld devices with camera’s, classifying all of us as self-taught directors; shooting and uploading 15-second clips of our daily lives twenty-four hours, seven days a week. As a result, media has transitioned into creating more content that incorporates the first person view. A new genre even came out of this movement, Reality television. In cinema film is shot mostly in the second and third person and only incorporates first person shots for brief moments, until now. ‘With the popularity of Gaming, these days it’s no surprise this first person storytelling (made famous on that platform) has made its way to theaters in a new film titled Hardcore Henry, directed by Ilya Naishuller, and produced by polish filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov. This new action movie the first its kind, it was shot entirely in the first person.
The movie follows a man named Henry that wakes up in a laboratory in a plane over Moscow, Russia. As he slowly awakens and comes to his sense he is informed by a woman assisting him that he has been brought back from the dead as a cyborg. With no recollection of his former life, Estelle (played by Haley Bennett), the woman assisting him tells him that she was his wife, and tell him his name in Henry. At that moment, a group of soldiers attacks the lab and Henry and his wife escape in a capsule that falls into the city. After crash landing, they are again ambushed and his wife is kidnapped by a telekinetic villain named Akan. He then begins his journey to discover more about who he is while trying to rescue his wife. As all the action unfolds, Jimmy(played by Sharlto Copley), a mysterious scientist, guides Henry through the adventure.
Originally titled Hardcore, the film’s concept came from two music videos that Naishuller created for his band, they were titled “The Stampede” and “Bad Motherfucker”. Both videos became a success on youtube, getting over 40 million views each. People then began writing to asking for a full-length film. So he began working on Hardcore. After it was shot the director created an IndieGoGo account where he hoped to raise the additional $250,000 to finish the post-production of the film. Naishuller explained in an interview that he needed to “make sure that the final look and feel of the Hardcore isn’t dictated by the terms of its distribution, but rather by the people who put thousands of hours into making it happen.” Within two months the account surpassed its goal, raising $254,954. By exceeding the amount needed to finish the film the director and producer were able to add CGI effects to the film; like the removal of equipment used to shoot out of the shots to add more realistic effects to the movie . The funding also allowed for the best sound producers to mix the sound.
The film officially premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival in September 2015. It was positively received and after a bidding war among the movie studios for rights to further produce the film, STX Entertainment acquired worldwide rights to the film. This movie is the first major Hollywood movie for the company, which is known for creating content on lower shooting budgets. They stick to projects that range from $20- 60 million dollars and only have one major star attached to them. This a more modern way of filming movies in an economy where less and less people are going to the movies. So it made sense to have Hardcore Henry be their first major release since it was the first of its kind and the could be completed on a budget of only $10 million dollars.
From the beginning of the film, we see a much different style of cinematic photography. The opening credits of the movie begin with old-fashioned theme music playing behind artistically close-up shots of point-of-impact moments such as a fist punching a face, a knife penetrating a man’s neck(all the way through), and even a bullet entering someone’s skull in slow motion. It was an unusual way to start a film, but the music and style of the shots made all the violence in the opening credits seem beautiful. The movie was mostly shot in 3D using two GoPro Hero 3 cameras at a time that were positioned side by side into a custom-made head-rig designed just for the film. This allowed for the director to record video from a visceral perspective. Due to the fact that this film is the first of its kind, there are some notable differences in shooting and storytelling techniques compared to all other films that aren’t shot in the first person point of view.
Since only one perspective is shown for the film entirety it’s clear that in order to keep viewers from getting bored, Naishuller had to continuously keep his main character on the move, running and jumping from one fight to a gun-fight from start to finish. This is where the movie parallels the look of most video games. However, showing action from this POV is not easy, so the director used a lot of continuous shots, only cutting away a handful of times and constantly moving the camera in many directions. At times, all this movement was a bit sickening, literally, but it puts moviegoers into the story and experience so it was necessary to keep the adrenaline going. the director stated that during the production of the film over three hundred Go pro camera’s were destroyed due to the complexity of shooting a movie of this type. The broken cameras are currently for sale, they sell for $300 dollars and include signatures from the cast.
The storytelling of the film was unique in how it presented the characters, there were basically only four characters, and then all the civilian props that were shot or blown up throughout the film. Since the POV is from Henry’s only I noticed that the director couldn’t really develop the other characters in any other way than through the dialogue they had with henry here and there throughout the film. So aside from Henry, the others are more flat characters. What’s also very unique is that unlike other movies the star of the film has no face, so in a sense, we are all henry since we see this action movie play out through his eyes. In actuality, it was the stuntmen and the director who were behind the Go Pro in all the scenes. No specific actor was hired to play Henry.
Hardcore Henry has no planned sequel, but I feel that the film represents the first of many more to come that will be shot in the first person. In fact I think its represents the future of Cinema. So far critics have had many negative things to say about the film; they feel that the film has too much movement or doesn’t quite have a solid storyline, but this POV movie is sure to be a big hit , especially as the way viewers observe content in slowly transitioning from big screens to portable ones viewed on platform like youtube. Also, many of smartphones today can be turned into virtual reality goggles that you can wear to watch movies and play video games; which is perfect to watch a movie like this. So I feel that the movie will appeal to gamers and technology enthusiasts at first, but will eventually be the front runner of cinematic genres as technology evolves more and more cinematic content like this is created.