Tuesday, July 19, 2016

In short: He Never Died (2015)

Jack (Henry Rollins) is a human blood-drinking, flesh-eating immortal. Actually, he’s a very specific immortal, but that’s neither here nor there. He has gone cold turkey on the murders that generally come with this sort of thing outside of YA novels and survives on a diet of small amounts of black market blood he buys from one of those body part hoking interns (Booboo Stewart) you find in every movie hospital. That diet isn’t too good for Jack’s personality though, and he spends his life sleeping, sleeping, sleeping, playing bingo, sleeping, keeping any given conversation ambiguously monosyllabic and ordering “hot tea” (one shudders to think what he’d get if he only said “tea”) in a local diner. Waitress Cara (Kate Greenhouse) is the closest Jack gets to actual human contact, and for reasons only known to her, she seems to have taken a bit of a shine to him.

Things will change for Jack when Andrea (Jordan Todosey), the daughter he didn’t know about, appears in his life, and he gets involved in his intern blood dealer’s trouble with some low level gangsters.

Tonally, Jason Krawczyk’s He Never Died is as far away from most other contemporary horror comedies as possible. There’s nothing zany here, and the film’s not interested in being parodic or self-consciously weird either. Instead, the humour here is bone dry, driven by Jack’s skewed attempts at pretending to be a normal human being, his peculiar interactions, and the quiet joy it brings to watch Henry Rollins play bingo.

Despite quite a body count – a part of which is held elegantly off-screen because once the audience has seen what Jack can do, it doesn’t need to be shown again and again which makes an interesting comparison to something like the much more mainstream Denzel Washington Equalizer that has certain obvious plot parallels  – I’d describe Krawczyk’s film as low key, approaching a surprisingly far-reaching mythology as matter-of-factly as it does its view of big city life, and never seeming afraid to just let things stand without detailed explanation and let the audience think about them a bit.

There’s a fine bit of irony going on here, too, with Jack being the more bizarrely literal-minded and socially awkward the less he’s involved in drinking blood, eating flesh and making a bloody mess. He’s more functional as an actual human being when he’s acting like a monster, which I find rather difficult not to read as a rather poignant choice of the film’s writer/director.

Rollins, not exactly the picture of variety when working as an actor (so just like when he’s working as a musician), is pretty much perfect here, breathing life into Jack’s awkwardness and weirdness and nailing his more human phases too. That Rollins, even in his mid-50s, can still embody physical threat when necessary is no surprise at all, of course.

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