Hardcore Henry: Point of View Thriller, Commercial Flop

STX Entertainment’s Hardcore Henry struggled to break through, earning a feeble $5.1 million from 3,015 theaters for a fifth place finish.

The studio acquired the point-of-view thriller in a bidding war at last year’s Toronto Film Fest, paying $10 million for the rights.

The opening weekend crowd drew heavily from the gamer set, with 72% of ticket buyers saying they played first-person shooter video games such as “Call of Duty” and “Halo.”

Hardcore Henry bills itself as the first POV action film. But there have been other movies in the past that have experimented with using the camera’s eye to stand in for the main character’s point-of-view, such as Lady in the Lake, directed by Robert Montgomery, a murder mystery in which the camera reflects what private detective Phillip Marlowe sees.

Hardcore Henry takes its cues from first-person video games. The movie is shot entirely from the perspective of it’s protagonist Henry, a half man-half robot with no recollection of his past after he wakes up in a lab next to a woman who says she is his wife, but who is then taken away by a gang of bad guys before she can tell Henry anything else. Henry then embarks on a bloody, cross-city search for his supposed lady love.

The first feature from Ilya Naishuller — who was born in Moscow and spent some of his school years in London — the movie was shot with a series of GoPro cameras that were attached to the heads of various stuntmen, or sometimes Naishuller himself.  The director was backed by producer Timur Bekmambetov, who just directed the Ben-Hur remake and supported the project from it’s inception.

Says Naishuller of the movie that debuted at last year’s Toronto Film Fest and then played SXSW, “I told everyone that if done correctly it will be unlike anything else. If done incorrectly, we will know within a week and we will shut down production and we will cut our losses.”

Securing financing?

I didn’t know if a POV movie could work for 90 minutes. I had all the same questions that anyone would have when making a movie like this. But Timur asked me the question: “Don’t you want to see a great POV action movie in the cinema?” And I said I would and he goes “Well why don’t you go make it?” I got the chance to make a brand new motion picture experience and that opportunity comes once in a lifetime, or maybe a couple of times if you are James Cameron. But I am not there yet. Once Timur was on board he said he would go meet with some other Russian investors.

Pace of the story?

I had three things to work with: what I like to think is pretty good personal taste, very good personal intuition and a very good editor. As I was writing the script and shooting the movie I was always thinking about finding the balance between violence versus humor and action versus slower moments.

The original assembly was two and a half hours long. I had a scene of Henry walking through the park and it was kind of a Terrence Malick moment, where I thought maybe the audience would need a breather. In the end we only lost a scene and a half in the final cut and the rest was just adding jump cuts and getting rid of unnecessary action.

Throwing the audience into the middle of scene?

I wanted the audience to be completely immersed in the film, to feel like Henry from start to finish. Unnecessary exposition is unnecessary for a reason. I didn’t want to explain where Akon, the antagonist, got his powers because I am tired of Hollywood telling me the same origin story. It was a careful balance of keeping the people interested but not over-explaining it. This is not a film about the story but how it goes about telling that story.

Exposition in blockbuster Hollywood?

I think it is a negative but it is a necessary evil. When you are dealing with movie made in the studio system where the stakes are high, like $150 million or whatever the budgets are, they need some form of committee. Sometimes we get beautiful films made that way, not often, but it does happen.

Best Moment on Hardcore Henry?

It was when Sharlto Copley said yes to being in the film and then the very first shot we did with him was when we entered the lab, and Henry wipes his feet on the doormat. I was shooting that as Henry and I remember thinking “Ilya this is amazing. You have a bunch of your friends and a bunch of money and Sharlto Copley in character so let’s not fuck it up.”

Toughest moment?

When we had a cut that was one hour and 56 minutes long and it worked but wasn’t what it was supposed to be. I had to go to producers and say, “Guys we need more time because there is a better film in there.” It was nice that they couldn’t make me submit to a film festival if I said it wasn’t ready.

Favorite Director

I would love to show the film to Quentin Tarantino.

Favorite movie?

Pulp FictionUsual Suspects, and a tie between Old Boy and Royal Tenenbaums.

Favorite video game?

The one that made the biggest impression in the last couple of year was The Last of Us.