AUSTIN, Tex. — The frenetically paced sci-fi action thriller “Hardcore Henry” is shot from a first-person point of view — meaning viewers see only what the main character sees.
Sharlto Copley is a supporting player but the star is you, and the pace rarely slows as Henry, a cyborg with a few enemies, must defend himself.
It’s the kind of movie tailor-made for South by Southwest audiences, which got to see it over the weekend here ahead of its April 8 theatrical release. When, in the opening credit sequence, a slow-motion knife through the neck garners cheers, you know you’re in a room full of genre enthusiasts.
In an interview here with the film’s writer and director, Ilya Naishuller, he spoke about bringing his first feature to life. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
How long did it take you to shoot the film?
It was three years in the making. It was made by trial and error. We started, we stopped. It was a year and a half of shooting.
What cameras are you using?
It’s almost all GoPros.
And what was the setup?
We used a special camera rig that is worn by the performer or stunt man. We used about 12 different guys to play Henry. Apart from maybe two shots, the things that Henry does in the film are done by an actual person playing the part of Henry.
What was the primary direction you wanted to go?
When we were starting, the biggest point that I explained to everybody was that we have to make sure that we feel like we’re the guy. And we’re not going to cheat it by using green screen and adding hands later. He has to be in these dangerous situations. We show it visually and people will feel it.
This character that we’re experiencing is a male cyborg. We see his body at points. Did you think at all whether women could relate to being in a man’s character?
I think a woman can relate to a man’s body way easier and quicker than a man would if it was a woman. I got this feeling that it would be harder for guys. But I didn’t do tests or research on that.
Could it have been shot in a way where it felt like it could be anyone?
If we didn’t have the hands and the legs, you wouldn’t have the experience. Because as humans, we identify right away. We have the hands, we have the feet, the jeans and the sneakers. If we didn’t have that, it would be a faux-[point of view] film.
One thing about girls watching the film: I severely underestimated the female desire to for all things violent and aggressive. I thought girls won’t like it, and then I started doing some small screenings at home and the girls were way more vocal in their involvement with the screen.
The film has a number of locations that must be navigated and stunts that must be organized. What was your process?
I was writing the script and I’d be sending back pages to the production office. The location manager would scour and find different things and I would write them into the script. We tried storyboards, but for this movie it was useless. There was a lot of trial and error. And his film could not have been made any other way.