This action movie was shot almost entirely with a GoPro

"Hardcore Henry," which had its US premier at the South By Southwest festival, is the first point-of-view action feature film. Which is both innovative and nauseating. (Warning: some mild spoilers ahead.)

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read

Director Ilya Naishuller used a special GoPro camera rig to shoot the movie.

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If you made a first-person-shooter video game like "Call of Duty" or "Doom" into a live-action movie, it would be "Hardcore Henry." And it would be bloodier.

The movie, which had its US premier Sunday night at the South By Southwest film, tech and music festival here in Austin, Texas, has more in line with technology than just being an homage to video games. The film runs for about 90 minutes, and all but a few of those minutes were shot on GoPro, the tiny action camera often worn by extreme athletes and other daredevils.

To get the shots, Russian director Ilya Naishuller used a rig with the GoPro attached to the front, worn like a mask. The idea was to make a film entirely from the perspective of the titular Henry, fighting his way through Moscow to save his wife from the clutches of an evil warlord. The rig itself, which Naishuller wore on the red carpet here, looks like a bulkier version of the muzzle the villain Bane wears in "The Dark Knight Rises."

It's billed as the first-ever action point-of-view feature film. And part of the excitement for Naishuller was capturing footage that no one had ever gotten before to use for the length of an entire film.

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The movie is the first-ever action point-of-view feature.

"The pleasure of knowing you're getting the first of this stuff, it's a genuine high," he said during a question-and-answer session after the screening.

All of this is thanks to technology getting cheaper and more manageable. Action cameras like those from GoPro, and similar products from competitors such as Sony, are bringing down the barriers to high-quality filmmaking. Smartphone cameras are getting better too. Apple brags on its billboards that the images there were shot using its latest iPhones.

GoPro, for its part, said it sent the production team a handful of its new-at-the-time HERO3 cameras to use for the film. David Newman, GoPro's senior director of software platforms, said working with Naishuller's team helped shape features in the company's future cameras.

For Naishuller, having that technology at hand resulted in making a real-life video game. Here's a little more about the plot: After an unknown accident, Henry -- or since it's a POV movie, you -- wakes up in a lab, and moments later his scientist wife, Estelle, played by Haley Bennett, screws on a mechanical leg. Henry's been transformed into a super-soldier who's more machine than man. Estelle is then kidnapped by Akan, played by Danila Kozlovsky, a supervillain with Psylocke-like telekinetic powers. Henry's only ally is Jimmy, another scientist, played by Sharlto Copley.

From there, we get head-pounding spectacle: flying through the air in a glass escape pod crashing toward the ground (and then the subsequent crash); fighting an army of Jimmys in a secret lab (if I explained why, I'd ruin it); fighting another army of super-soldiers on a roof in pitch-black night (yes, lots of unnamed, cartoonish death here, just like in a video game). Through it all, Naishuller said, Henry is played primarily by three people, including the director himself, but about a dozen actors and stuntmen in all played the character.

The result is not for the squeamish. If the violence, or for that matter, a sometimes misogynistic undertone, doesn't get to you -- it's gorier than a Quentin Tarantino flick -- the camera work might. While innovative, the POV style gets nauseating to watch over the course of an entire film, especially when most of it involves blowing people up or getting blown up.

"We're still trying to figure out where the splash zone is," Copley joked before the movie began. "I think after the first three rows you're OK."

The movie will be released in theaters on April 8 in the US and UK.

Naishuller also had his doubts. The concept originally came from a 5-minute YouTube video (probably not safe for work), and he wasn't sure the idea would work over a 90-minute film. But the film's producer convinced him to give it a try.

After the Q&A portion, the filmmakers gave one audience member a prize: a GoPro.

"Go try to make some of this s*** at home," Copley said. "Good luck."