Hardcore Henry and the problem with immersion

This is a preview of an article you can read on our new website dedicated to virtual reality, Versions.


A fight scene is a dance: not just between the characters in conflict, but between stunt people and the effects crew, between the cinematographer and choreographer, between the editor and sound designer, all of them moving together at once.

The best fight scenes have a narrative arc, however slight or implied. Think of Bruce Lee adapting to and punishing Chuck Norris’s brute power in Lee’s 1972 The Way of the Dragon, or the feral, hallucinatory slaughter that ends Kihachi Okamoto’s 1966 psychotic ronin portrait The Sword of Doom. These fights reveal something about the characters, or give us miniature dramas of will, all thanks to the intricate efforts of the filmmakers.

All this is to say that Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry not only fails to function as an action movie, but completely misapprehends the basic workings of action movies. Hardcore Henry employs an absurd gimmick: it’s filmed entirely in point-of-view shots to—if videogames have taught me anything—fully immerse you in the action. That it’s not all one take perhaps counts as restraint on the filmmakers’ part.