Isn’t it nice when a movie that you really, desperately want to be good turns out to be even better than you were hoping for? Of course it is, and if you can’t root for an independent, low-budget Canadian horror film starring Henry fucking Rollins as an immortal cannibalistic killer, well — you, sir (or ma’am) clearly have no heart whatsoever.
Still, just in case you require any further proof of the inherent awesomeness of writer/director Jason Krawczyk’s 2015 feature He Never Died, here’s a quick rundown of the plot particulars : Jack (Rollins) is, in addition to being the most deadpan protagonist this side of Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name,” perpetually bored — albeit by choice. His life is routine in the extreme, consisting mostly of eating at the same diner every day, watching TV, and playing bingo. We slowly come to learn that he’s limiting his human interaction simply because he’s both tired of the pain that comes with outliving everyone he gets to know, and because he’s frankly bored with satiating his hunger the old-fashioned way. Still, when his blood supplier (and the closest thing he’s got to a friend), Jeremy (played by Booboo Stewart) gets in deep with a local loan shark who’s not above tasking his minions with collecting on the debts owed him violently, Jack is forced out of retirement and an epic, operatic bloodbath ensues that will test whether or not he can put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak, or if all those decades of living the quiet life have been in vain.
Complicating matters slightly is the fact that his regular waitress, Cara (Kate Greenhouse) seems to have a crush on him, and complicating matters considerably is the fact that he’s just learned that he has a grown daughter named Andrea (Jordan Todosey) who actively wants to get to know him. How’s a guy who’s been doing his best to lay low supposed to react when this much domestic drama is suddenly foisted upon him against his wishes?
Rollins, in case you hadn’t already guessed, absolutely kills it (yes, lame pun intended) in this flick, and in a just and fair world would probably have garnered some serious Oscar consideration. That didn’t happen, though, so he’s just gonna have to settle for what praise he can get from those of us who know what we’re talking about. His co-stars are uniformly good as well, have no fear on that score, but this film is as close to a one-man tour de force as you’re like to see this year.
A brilliant casting choice isn’t all that Krawczyk did right here, though — not by a long shot. The overall tone he establishes for his film leans comedic, to be sure, but it never fully crosses the line into self-parody or spoof, even though it easily could, and that impeccable sense of restraint really pays off once the blood starts flowing and the bodies start piling up. Is the violence absurd and over the top? Of course it is — but it’s not presented in a manner that suggests it’s purely for laughs and entirely without consequence. It’s horrific — in the best sense of the word — but still relayed on a human scale that necessarily heightens and accentuates its impact. In short, you’re going to feel this one every bit as much as you see it.
Of course, the brilliant subtlety of Rollins’ performance ensures that as he changes — for the worse — it’s a genuinely jarring experience for viewers, and that’s a sure sign of an actor who gets what he’s doing. You’re still going to be rooting for the guy no matter how savage and uncontrolled he becomes, though, and that’s the mark of good acting and good directing. He Never Died walks a tonal tightrope from start to finish, but Krawczyk and his cast unfailingly keep their balance at all times and the end result is a film that I have no doubt will accrue an ever-larger cult following to itself as the years go by. It’s streaming on Netflix right now and I strongly suggest you get in on the ground floor so that you can say “I told you so” when this thing becomes the next big “midnight movie” sensation.