‘Hardcore Henry’: Inside the Insane First-Person Shooter Movie
You’re dangling off a van driving at an ungodly speed down a three-lane Moscow highway; suddenly, you hear a raucous, jarring thump. With all the violent jostling, it’s impossible to tell if it was a bump in the road or a tire crushing a stuntman’s head. You look everywhere for clues; it’s only once the Russian daredevil, previously lying prostrate in the middle of hectic traffic, flashes the thumbs up and yells, “Did you get?! Did you get?!” that you realize no one has died. Not yet, at least. Congratulations: You get to shoot your first-person-P.O.V. cyborg movie another day.
According to Sharlto Copley, the star, executive producer and aforementioned van-dangler of the new cyber-action film Hardcore Henry, he can laugh at the death-defying stunt now. “I thought I drove over him and killed him,” Copley says. “It was my worst three minutes in film. But he later showed me this crazy, weird bump that just happened to be there at the exact moment I knocked him down.”
It turned out that the only film-related fatalities are the hundreds committed by the titular hero. The Henry of Hardcore Henry is a freshly “woken” half-man, half-robot fusion who must figure out why a telekinetic psycho and his army of violence-prone cyber-minions are trying to kill him. Also, the entire film is shot from the perspective of our on-the-run hero. You see only what he sees. You slay who he slays.
The audacious, frenetic film, directed by 32-year-old Ilya Naishuller, utilizes countless GoPros and absurd levels of violence to blur the line between film and first-person shooter — think Doom meets Ichi the Killer meets Kingda Ka. “I’ve got to play these characters like we’re in a video game,” Copley, who plays 11 half-cyborg versions of his character Jimmy, says. “It’s not like we’re trying to make an Oscar-winning movie here.”
There were minor issues to discuss, though, before any talk of midnight-movie glory — like making sure the audience doesn’t puke during the film. “I’m the guy who gets motion sickness very easy,” Naishuller tells Rolling Stone from his Moscow home. “I can’t even text in the passenger side of a car.”
The director did more than 40 hours of “stabilization tests” to find the balance between the unrelenting (some takes last more than seven minutes) and the merely nausea-inducing. Naishuller attached a custom-built lightweight camera rig and miniature stabilization system to “Henry’s” head, alternately played by nearly a dozen stuntmen or, occasionally, Naishuller himself. This allows viewers to fully immerse themselves in the film and virtually partake in every throat-slicing, disemboweling, dismemberment and defenestration.