LOS ANGELES: First-person live-action shooter “Hardcore Henry” hits theaters this weekend in a blaze of buzz hailing the movie as a new cinematic genre for “Generation Xbox” — but sharply dividing critics.
The Russian-American production shares the aesthetic of hit “point-of-view” video games like “Halo” and “Call of Duty,” but with real actors, filmed on GoPro cameras attached to the main character.
“Action cinema has always thrived when it captured the sensation of participating in dangerous situations that most people would much rather avoid in real life,” said Russian first-time director Ilya Naishuller.
“The goal with ‘Hardcore Henry’ was to push it a step further, to put the audience right into the body of the protagonist, to have them experience the primal, exhilarating feeling that we usually view from a much safer distance.”
The first-person device isn’t new; audiences have gazed out from behind the eyes of the hero or antagonist in all manner of action and horror movies, from “Halloween” and “The Evil Dead” to “Predator” and “Jaws.”
What is new is a movie that uses almost no other type of camera angle, from its violent opening scenes until its blood-spattered conclusion, 96 minutes and several dozen gruesome deaths later.
It is the logical conclusion of a decade that has seen Hollywood flirt with gaming franchises like “Tomb Raider” and “Resident Evil” to attract “Generation Xbox,” a term popularized by British screenwriter Jamie Russell.
In his 2012 book “Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood,” Russell argues that Hollywood has been losing the prime movie-going demographic of 18 to 24-year-olds who are increasingly thinking: “Why watch a movie, when you can live inside one?”
“Generation Xbox knows that the once solid boundary between games and movies has become a permeable membrane. They use their Xbox 360s and PS3s to watch Netflix movies. They create their own machinima videos out of the latest first-person shooters,” he says.
“They’re more likely to have a poster of Nick Bellic from ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’ on their bedroom wall than Travis Bickle from ‘Taxi Driver’ or Tony Montana from ‘Scarface.'”
“Hardcore Henry” opened on 3,000 screens in the United States over the weekend, distributed by STX Entertainment, which snapped up the worldwide rights at the Toronto Film Festival.
It also debuted in Russia, mainland Europe and Britain, with critics divided over what to make of cinema’s latest innovation.
Shot mainly in Moscow, with a few days in Los Angeles, the film opens with protagonistHenry having lost his memory and learning he is a cyborg who must protect his wife from a gang of ultraviolent criminals.
The audience is not shown Henry’s face — even in the mirror — apart from one fleeting half-glance near the end, and the character is not assigned to an actor in the credits.
“Hardcore Henry” grew from a first-person music video made by Naishuller for his punk band “Biting Elbows” that became a viral sensation, attracting over 120 million views on video-sharing sites.
Filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov, whose credits include thriller “Unfriended,” and fantasy “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” persuaded the novice director to turn his concept into a feature film.
“I admired Ilya’s daring, creative spirit. There are three major factors that draw me to a project — originality and boldness, and an interesting concept,” said Bekmambetov.
In front of the GoPro for much of the running time is South African actor Sharlto Copley — who played lead roles in a string of hits including “District 9,” “Elysium” and “Maleficent” — as Henry’s mentor who guides him through a series of increasingly deadly assignments.
Haley Bennett, who was in Antoine Fuqua’s 2014 film “The Equalizer” and stars in his upcoming remake of 1960 western “The Magnificent Seven,” appears as Henry’s wife, while Britain’s Tim Roth makes a brief appearance as his father.
The movie has been touted as a potential game-changer to rival CGI, introduced in “Westworld” (1973), the “steadicam” in 1980’s “The Shining,” or the slow-mo “Bullet Time” of the 1990s “The Matrix” trilogy.
“If ‘Hardcore Henry’ succeeds, then Naishuller’s technique could go from being greeted as a gimmick to zeitgeist transformative filmmaking that disrupts traditional notions of the movie-going experience,” said Ross Lincoln, a critic for film website Deadline Hollywood.
But he went on to describe Naishuller’s movie as “more of an endurance test” than traditional actioner that “asks much of anyone who is not a hardcore gamer.”
The New York Post made the wry observation in its one-star review that the film had “precisely replicated the experience of watching someone else play a video game.” AFP