04th Oct2015

Grimmfest 2015: ‘He Never Died’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Henry Rollins, Booboo Stewart, Jordan Todosey, Steven Ogg, Kate Greenhouse, Michael Cram, Elias Edraki, Dan Petronijevic, Karl Campbell, Walter Alza | Written and Directed by Jason Krawczyk

he-never-died

Jack’s in a rut. Depression and severe anti-social behavior has whittled down his existence to sleeping, playing bingo, and eating the same meal at the same time every day at the same diner. Seeing the human race as little more than meat with a pulse, Jack has no interest to bond with anyone. There’s little purpose for him to make friends with someone he’d eventually eat. However Jack’s world is turned upside down when a daughter he never new existed turns up on his door step and he becomes embroiled with a group of mobsters…

As a dedicated horror fan, and even moreso as someone who attends a ton of horror film festival and reviews a LOT of movies, it’s often impossible to find a film that has anything new to say about the genre in which it resides. After all, scarying people has been a staple of the movies since the silent era. What has also been a staple in the horror genre, since even way back then, is the vampire. An iconic “villain”, vampires have been a mainstay of movie-making for decades: from the silent-era Nosferatu, through the Universal Monsters era and beyond into, what is undoubtedly, the studio that really took the vampire mythos – and Dracula – to heart, Hammer.

I would posit that only the zombie film can rival vampire movies’ ubiquitousness in horror cinema. So you’d think there would be no more vampire stories to tell right? I certainly thought that was the case. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I walked out of the Grimmfest screening of He Never Died with only one thought rattling round my head: who knew after all these years there was still something new to see in the vampire genre? Especially considering the film has been billed as everything from zombie film to even cannibal flick. It’s not. He Never Died is a vampire story through and through… And one that brings a whole new angle to the long-standing, and almost unchanged, mythos.

I never expected that.

What I did expect was a fantastic central performance from Henry Rollins and that’s exactly what we got. Rollins buries that loud-mouthed persona he’s more commonly known for behind a calm, cold and calculated exterior; occassionally letting loose when Jack’s hunger gets too much for him. The very idea of Rollins not being the brash, outspoken person we know him as really works for He Never Died - the audience knows that’s how Rollins can be, and so the level of anticipation in seeing him “unleashed” gives his character an extra dimension and his performance an added depth.

Thankfully Rollins has great support from He Never Died‘s two leading ladies – Jordan Todosey as Jack’s daughter Andrea and Kate Greenhouse as Cara, the waitress at the diner Jack frequents. Both of whom are the perfect foil for Rollins’ quiet, withdrawn Jack. Andrea brings Jack some much needed humanity, making him care about someone other than himself; whilst Cara helps Jack build human relationships – with not only her but also his daughter. All three represent different aspects of humanity: Jack is the Id, fulfilling his own basic needs; Andrea is the Ego, helping Jack deal with his particular reality and the reality of the world around him; and Cara is the SuperEgo, the morals of Jacks story. All three coming together in this tale to allow Jack to finally face his own humanity – if you could call it that – and come to terms with just who and what he is.

This who and what of He Never Died, and how this brings something new to vampire fiction MUST remain a mystery, for to reveal the films stunning, audience-silencing explanation of Jack’s true identity would whole-heartedly ruin the film. Let’s just say it’s a much more epic justification for vampirism than you will ever imagine… Though He Never Died does make you wait, teasing the audience with clues (and red herrings) as to Jack’s true nature. But bear with this slow-burn and you’ll be well rewarded.

A genre-bending mix of neo-noir, grim black comedy and bloody revenge thriller, He Never Died is truly, truly unmissable.

***** 5/5

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