D: Jason Krawczyk / 97m
Cast: Henry Rollins, Steven Ogg, Jane Greenhouse, Jordan Todosey, Booboo Stewart, James Cade, Dan Petronijevic, Don Francks
Jack (Rollins) is a loner. He lives in a run-down apartment building and spends most of his days sleeping. When he’s awake he’s uncommunicative and miserable. He goes to the same diner every day for the same thing (oatmeal), and is oblivious to the attempts by one of the waitresses, Cara (Greenhouse), to find out more about him. The only appointments he has are with a hospital intern, Jeremy (Stewart), who sells him unidentified items out of his car. Jack isn’t just world weary, he’s time weary.
When two thugs (Cade, Petronijevic) come to his apartment looking for Jeremy and threaten him, Jack dispenses with them even though he’s shot in the hand. And later that same night, he receives a call from his most recent wife asking him to pick up their daughter, Andrea (Todosey), before she gets too drunk to drive home. He finds her and takes her back to his apartment. Before long, Jack is taking Andrea to the diner, and to the place where he plays bingo two or three times a week. As they get to know each other – reluctantly on Jack’s part – his true nature begins to assert itself once the two thugs from the day before try to have him killed. From there, matters escalate. Andrea is kidnapped, Jack is revealed to have certain “skills” and one heck of a back story, and the shadowy presence of an old man continually leaves Jack spooked.
He Never Died is many things: a black comedy, a thriller, a horror movie, a relationship drama, and a movie with a core mystery whose reveal is at odds with one of the first things we learn about Jack. But this is okay, because even though these various story elements don’t always gel together into an effective whole, this is a movie that has Henry Rollins giving one of the most enjoyably deadpan, sardonic performances ever. While there are times when writer/director Krawczyk’s script drops the ball (and never finds out where it’s ended up), Rollins is the rock the movie is built on, and he doesn’t disappoint, playing Jack completely straight and with a no-nonsense attitude that reaps dividends from the start. This is a man who is seriously underwhelmed by everything; to say he doesn’t suffer anything gladly would be a massive understatement.
But while Rollins is impressive as Jack, and he plays him with a hard-edged nonchalance that’s strangely endearing (for the viewer), elsewhere there are performances and characters that don’t quite fit the bill. Ogg’s slimy club owner, Alex, is played at too manic a pitch to be anything but annoying, while Greenhouse’s smitten waitress is asked to suspend disbelief too often for comfort, and too easily. It’s left to Todosey to inject some fun into proceedings, as Andrea manoeuvres her way through the minefield of Jack’s reluctance to bond.
He Never Died is also a movie that, for a comedy-horror-thriller, is drenched in blood, whether it’s from one of the many goons who cross his path, or from Jack himself (there’s a scene with a pair of pliers that you won’t forget easily). The red stuff is all over the place here, but it’s relevant too, and thanks to Eric Billman’s often colour saturated cinematography, is memorable for its distribution and its lurid quality. But while Krawczyk pays his genre dues, it’s in terms of the movie’s humour that He Never Died works so well, with some whip-smart dialogue and a handful of killer one-liners (Andrea’s assertion that “vaginas are like coupon books for alcohol” is an instant classic).
Rating: 7/10 – while it struggles at times to be coherent and true to its main character’s origins, there’s much to enjoy in He Never Died; violent, profane and gloriously acerbic, it’s a movie that revels in its own cleverness, and wants its audience to have the anarchic ride of their lives, something it achieves with undisguised relish.