Starring Henry Rollins, Boo Boo Stewart, Kate Greenhouse, Steven Ogg, Jordan Todosey
Directed by Jason Krawczyk
You didn’t have to be at the Q&A at one thirty in the morning last night for the World Premiere of He Never Died to learn that writer-director Jason Krawczyk has a love for comic book storylines. You just had to be there for the ninety seven minutes that preceded it. The characters and setup of Krawczyk’s film are certainly inspired from the pages of adult comics and pulp literature but the classy, fun-hearted neo-noir that emerges is definitely better suited for the big screen, largely due to a dynamic lead performance from “punk-rock fraud” (in his own words) Henry Rollins and terrific sound design.
Portraying a stoic, cannibalistic force of nature that could probably stand toe-to-toe with Saint of Killers from Garth Ennis’ Preacher series, Henry Rollins commands every scene he’s in as Jack, a loner that prefers naps and bingo over any real contact with the outside world. Trying his best to avoid violence is even harder when it’s what you’re best at, and the flourishes seen in the opening minutes reveal that Jack is born to fight and isn’t just tough; he’s virtually unbreakable. After a hard right cross, Jack just looks right back into the eyes of his assailants with slight amusement, and the intimidating presence of Rollins is convincing enough to completely believe his character’s unnatural tolerance to pain. The real surprise is Rollins’ comedic timing and his ability to remain likeable and interesting even though Jack is going out of his way to be the most boring person alive.
The irony is that Jack has already lived a long life but he goes out of his way not to actually have one, as if he’s punishing himself by not allowing himself to enjoy any aspects of a fruitful existence. Or, perhaps, he’s just sick to death of all of us and prefers to be left alone. Cue a long lost daughter knocking on the door who forces Jack out of his small apartment and out of his bed only to give Jack a reason to live which only makes him vulnerable to attack by his enemies who now know he has a reason to kill.
Looking closely at an early shirtless scene, some clues are given about the rest of Jack’s family tree, and his penchant for flesh eating that bubbles up again once he falls off the hurt wagon also speaks to the intrinsic, sometimes monstrous evil lurking beneath the surface of Jack’s icy demeanor. The sound design by Daniel Pellerin and team should also be pointed out as a striking aural indicator of the torment Jack has inflicted as bonecrushing sounds of the past assault his psyche as Jack fights to stay in control. They play loudly in the background telling of war and suffering down through the ages but, to Jack, these sounds are like a record playing on lo-fi in the background. Also because of the basement rock bellowing throughout the film’s running time, He Never Died should definitely be seen in a theater or, at the very least, with a high quality audio setup in play to fully appreciate the sonic landscape that acts like a character that’s constantly poking at Jack’s conscious.
The violence is done in quick blasts and plays like more of a nuisance than any kind of real threat but there are some memorable moments where Rollins looks like he could have easily pulled off roles like The Terminator and even Dalton in Road House. If you think you’ve seen Rollins before and know his limits, be sure to seek out his first lead role ever in He Never Died. Luckily, we might see even more of this world and the character of Jack in a new mini-series in development. Talking at the Q&A last night, Rollins said he has read the first couple of episodes and called them “totally insane.”