When it comes to groundbreaking cinematic techniques, your mind may not be instantly drawn to first time directors.
But not every newbie has the vision of the frankly slightly mad Ilya Naishuller, or the ambition to make the world’s first point of view action movie, Hardcore Henry.
Of course, we’ve already seen a half baked version of first person camera work in 2005’s abominable Doom adaptation, and more recently in the even more horrendous Grimsby.
But despite such dreadful predecessors, Ilya had a vision and was committed to bringing his novel idea of a full first person movie to the big screen.
Ilya was no stranger to the first person view point, though. Before starting work on Henry he’d shot a POV music video for his band, Biting Elbow’s track Bad Motherfucker, and it’s from this bizarre five minute video that the seeds of his new film were sewn.
But despite having such a strong visual style, Ilya wasn’t convinced that his grand action film would be a success, saying, ‘I was worried it wouldn’t work for the whole ninety minutes’, and he actually began prepping for a more conventional Cold War thriller.
It was only when his producer, Timur Bekmambetov, told him there was an opportunity to do some pioneering work that he agreed to go ahead with it, saying in his own words he’d be a ‘fool’ not to take this opportunity.
Don’t you want to go and see a great point of view movie in the cinema? I realised I would… And the opportunity to be a pioneer comes along very rarely, I’d be a fool not to seize this opportunity.
Once work began on the project, Ilya’s vision was crystal clear and he knew exactly how the film was going to look and where the story was going to go. The director told me he always wanted the first kill to be something vicious, and more importantly ‘different’.
When someone suggested having the protagonist crack someone’s head with a crowbar, he said: “No, I want to see him kill someone with a wind-shield wiper, I’ve never seen that before”
And this ‘out of the box’ attitude runs through the whole movie, with Ilya letting his imagination run free, using his constant work ethic to give the audience an experience unlike any other.
This ‘pioneer spirit’ seemed very important to Ilya. When I asked if he’d heard the press saying his film was the best video game movie ever made, and what video games had inspired him to make the film, he denied that any one source had inspired the film.
It was a film first and foremost and not a video game. This film was a combination of 25 years watching movies and TV, playing video games and reading books, that’s where it comes from and it doesn’t really matter which ones directly inspired me.
A project as bonkers as this requires an actor willing to take a risk – enter Sharlto Copley, the South African star of Elysium, Chappie and of course the wonderful District 9.
Sharlto’s a well respected sci-fi actor and bringing him on board gives Ilya’s film a degree of credibility that it perhaps lacked without a ‘name’ attached. The director said that as soon as Sharlto came on board he knew that there’d be the opportunity for more comedic beats in the film, giving it a broader range.
For Sharlto, however, the decision to star was a no-brainier, as being involved with a smaller project like this would give him a degree of creative control similar to the movie that propelled him to stardom, District 9.
I signed on based on the music video, as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to make this movie. I saw it, in a certain way, as a way to get back to my roots and have some creative input like I did while working on D9.
Of course, working on a film where your character is actually played by thirteen separate stuntmen poses its own challenges, especially as Sharlto’s character is our view point into this world, and Henry can’t talk.
Speaking candidly he admitted that it was ‘incredibly challenging to play against the stuntmen’. He continued: “Normally as an actor 90 per cent of the time there’s something there for you to play off, whether it be another actor or sometimes a yellow tennis ball, this was different, it was a challenge,” – mostly because he couldn’t see their faces, he added.
Laughing as he told me, Sharlto said at times he was facing down the barrel of a camera acting, with no face to play against, but he said he loved the opportunity and the way it ‘stretched’ him as an actor.
But the most important thing for Sharlto is that the movie’s breaking new ground, and despite it being ‘the most challenging movie he’s ever had to make’, he hopes the movie will inspire a generation of new film makers.
I’m incredibly proud of this movie and I believe that it’ll have an influence on young new film makers, and hopefully [the film will] encourage more creative ideas in the future.
So what does the future hold for Ilya and Sharlto? Ilya is hoping to finish his conventional Cold War thriller, but admits that if the audiences want more Henry then he’d happily come back.
Meanwhile, Sharlto mentioned two secret projects that all my journalistic cunning couldn’t tease out of him, although he said having a degree of creative control is very important to him and will influence his choice of projects in the future. He did say, however, that we’d see him next in Ben Wheatley’s crime- drama Free Fire.
Hardcore Henry is in cinemas April 8.