Hardcore Henry: from viral video sensation in cyberspace to ground-breaking, irreverent feature film

A ground-breaking independent film that completely abandons, even eviscerates, traditional filmmaking and replaces it with a raw and immediate experience.

An operatic, uncompromising story told entirely from the point of view of the protagonist,  empowering the audience to become one with the protagonist.

Hardcore Henry began with Russian-born filmmaker IlyaNaishuller’s  ground-breaking, irreverent video BadMotherf*cker. The video, done as part of his other job as frontman for the punkband Biting Elbows,was an operatic, uncompromising story told entirely from the point of view of the protagonist. Fiercely mesmerizing, it became a viral sensation attracting over 120million views around the world.

Ilya Naishuller and Sergey Valyaev on the set of Hardcore Henry

Russian writer-director Ilya Naishuller and cameraman Sergey Valyaev on the set of Hardcore Henry

Hardcore Henry is one of the most unflinchingly original wild-rides to hit the big screen in a longtime:You experience the entire film through the main character Henry. When the film begins,you remember nothing. Mainly because you’ve just been brought back from the dead by your wife(HaleyBennett).She tells you that your name is Henry. Five minutes later,you are being shot at, your wife has been kidnapped,and you should probably go get her back.Who’s got her?His name’s Akan (DanilaKozlovsky); he’s a powerful warlord with an army of mercenaries,and a plan for world domination.You’re also in an unfamiliar city of Moscow,and everyone wants you dead.Everyone except for a mysterious British fellow called Jimmy (SharltoCopley.) He may be on your side,but you aren’t sure. If you can survive the insanity,and solve the mystery,you might just discover your purpose and the truth behind your identity.Good luck,Henry. You’re likely going to need it…


Producer/director Timur Bekmambetov was one of those fans.He contacted Naishuller via Facebook message and encouraged him to expand his vision into a feature length film, and the result was Hardcore Henry, an action-packed, immersive experience told completely from the point   of view of a cyborg named Henry.

I couldn’t stop watching BadMotherf*cker. I admired Ilya’s daring, creative spirit,’’ says Bekmambetov.

’’There are three major factors that draw me to a project: originality and boldness and an interesting concept. That video was truly unique and unusual. Something that looks like pure insanity turns out to be a well thought out and rational project. Ilya’s process in achieving this effect is one of his most valuable assets,’’Bekmambetov says. Shot almost entirely on GoPro cameras with custom engineered rigs, Hardcore Henry completely abandons, even eviscerates, traditional filmmaking and replaces it with a raw and immediate experience, allowing the audience to become one with the protagonist, so viewers go on a very personal and breath-taking journey with Henry.

‘’Action cinema has always thrived when it captured the sensation of participating in dangerous situations that most people would much rather avoid in real life. The goal with Hardcore Henry was to push it a step further, to put the audience right into the body of the protagonist, to have them experience the primal, exhilarating feeling that we usually view from a much safer distance,’’says Naishuller.

‘’Ilya’s’way of storytelling is very relatable. I think he manages a unique balance of the violence, humor and story and emotional connection with the characters,’’Bekmambetov says. ‘’It is not just  90 minutes of cool stuff, it’s also an interesting and an exciting story and Ilya was keen to develop both aspects,’’Bekmambetov explains. Bekmambetov’s enthusiastic interest proved to be life changing for Naishuller although at the time, Naishuller was wary… ‘’The second night after Bad Motherf*cker had become such a hit, I got a message on FB from Timur. He’s a huge deal to us in Russia; he’s a cinematic hero.We met over Skype,he said congratulations and asked if I might be interested in expanding it into a feature film? To be honest, I was hesitant at first because I wasn’t sure it could be done well enough to transcend the gimmick. But Timur asked,‘Would you not want to see a great POV action film in a cinema?’ I said yes, and he simply answered ‘Well, go make it then,’’’Naishuller recounts.


Timur Bekmambetov and Ilya Naishuller

‘’The more I thought about it, the more interesting and challenging it seemed. My biggest concern was never the action, but if I could tell a story within this creative cage. I realized that if I could correctly accomplish both, it would make for a mind-blowing cinematic experience. So I flew to Los Angeles to meet Timur, who was amazing, really supportive and a big believer in the project. We talked about the challenges of making this as a full-length feature, hashed out some ideas,and shook hands on it. It was the easiest, most amazing experience. Not only did I just get a chance to work with one of the most respected Russian directors and producers,but that producer promised to allow me to make the film I was envisioning. I went back to Moscow, secured additional financing for the film,and began working on the script.”

”Throughout the process,Timur kept his word, and I got the best of both worlds; a rare producer who was there any time I needed his help or advice, and who never once pushed me to do anything I felt was wrong for the film.It really was an incredible experience.It also helps immensely that since Timur is an accomplished director as well as a producer,he truly understands the pressure that  a director is under.

”The best way to help promising filmmakers is to give them creative freedom, as well as full responsibility. It gave Ilya a chance to make his own mistakes and then to find ways of making things right in the end,’’Bekmambetov explains.

Producer Inga Smith was an early Naishuller fan,introduced to his earlier videos by Russian producer Ekaterina Kononenko,whom Smith met during Cannes a year before Hardcore Henry was born. ‘’It was clear how undeniably talented Ilya was. We met in New York to discuss a film Ilya wanted to direct and I signed on as a producer.We had just received the first draft of that very different film when the video for BadMotherf*cker exploded on the web and Ilya began to receive a lot of attention fromHollywood.The buzz was definitely there about Bad Motherf*cker. KROQ in LA found Ilya’s number and called him to interview him on air,MTV,  Samuel Jackson tweeted a photo of himself holding a handmade sign with ‘I’m A Bad Motherf*er’on it. It was definitely an exciting time for Ilya, Smith recalls.


‘’I went home to write the script and within a few days of working on it, I called Timur and pitched him the idea of getting a star for the yet unnamed sidekick character.Timur asked me,who Iwas thinking of,and I immediately said Sharlto Copley.Timur arranged for Sharlto and I to get on a Skype call and I described to him the style of the film,the basic story outline and the part of the guide and counsellor that I wanted him to play. Sharlto said that he was intrigued by the concept,wasn’t afraid of participating in something so experimental,and that as long as he liked the final script and his character, he’d do it. I then had a very nervous week of creating the Jimmy character.I had to have Sharlto in this film so I had to come up with something  truly special that he could not say no to. And I figured that no actor could possibly avoid the magnetic lure of having to play multiple characters in the same film. Hence, the idea of the many Jimmies was born.’’ Like Bekmambetov, Copley was captivated by Naishuller’s BadMotherf*cker video.

‘’Timur  and I had been trying to do something together for years. He said he had this very interesting thing he’d love for me to do and he sent me Ilya’s short film.I watched it about 16 times repeatedly,and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.The idea of trying to shoot a movie like this was fascinating to me, something really fresh,creative and totally unique,’’ Copley says.

Social media proved to be a generous benefactor to HardcoreHenry. Not only did it lead Bekmambetov to Naishuller,it allowed them to return to the fans that originally championed the video. Through a robust web-based outreach, those same supporters provided the funds needed to finish the independent movie properly. The Indiegogo campaign seemed an organic extension for Hardcore Henry. IlyaandI talked about doing an Indiegogo campaign from the very beginning, because of BadMotherf*cker’s’massive online views and presence, but Ilya was hesitant to reach out to the fans before he was sure that the film was going to be good. Once the first assembly of Hardcore Henry was complete and Ilya was happy with where it was heading,we made a decision to move ahead to re-engage our online audience base, reach out to all the bloggers that wrote about BadMotherf*cker and increase the awareness about the film. Plus, Hardcore Henry evolved as we were making it,becoming more complicated in terms of special effects,sounds etc.which left us with few funds for music. So we launched our campaign and it was very rewarding,on several levels,not just financially.We received a lot of world wide press, widened our audiencebase,and were able to raise the needed funds.According to Indiegogo our campaign was by far the most international they’ve ever seen on their platform,with contributions comingin from as far as South Korea,Denmark,Sweden,Israel,Russia,’’Smith recalls.