He Never Died [SXSW 2015]
Other // Unrated // March 17, 2015
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted April 9, 2015
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The horror genre has explored the eating habits of cannibals, zombies, and other flesh-eating entities over the past few decades. Often times, filmmakers interpret such stories in a comedic fashion to varied results. Some work rather well, while others are complete failures. Writer/director Jason Krawczyk is a newcomer to the filmmaking craft, but is testing his hand at the sub-genre with He Never Died. Making its premiere at SXSW Film Festival 2015, this is another film that had the chance to soar or fall. Fortunately, this is an extremely entertaining genre film that would also work marvelously as a mini series.

Jack (Henry Rollins) is a social outcast, as he spends almost all of his time either sleeping or watching television. With the unquenchable hunger for human meat, he has no interest in forming any relationships. When a daughter that he never knew existed knocks on his door, he's forced to face his past and confront it head on. However, he's going to have to break a few of his own rules in order to do what's right.

Deep down, He Never Died can actually be classified as film noir. It sounds insane, but it has many similar themes that it mixes in with its horror elements. Surprisingly, it's quite fitting. Jack gets himself involved in the business of a group of criminals, which instantly puts him on their radar, especially when they discover that he can't be killed. He takes some brutal blows from fists and bullets, and none of them seem to have any effect on him. Despite these elements, the majority of the film is meant to be funny, and it succeeds. Krawczyk's screenplay utilizes a great deal of sarcasm, especially in the interactions between Jack and his daughter. Since this is the first time that they have met, she doesn't know about his violent past, and his strange present. He plays bingo, doesn't eat any kind of meat, and lives his entire life within a couple blocks. Little does she realize, this is how he remains sane without consuming human flesh. She acts as his introduction back into reality, as well as the individual who will manage to make him feel human once again.

Once the film kicks into high gear, it remains on a blood-soaked path that only gets wetter as it continues to progress. He Never Died is incredibly violent, especially as Jack's hunger for human flesh continues to increase to uncontrollable levels. Once he's turned onto a path of revenge, he's willing to decimate anybody who stands in his way, and consume them. Just when you think that it can't get anymore over-the-top, it manages to surprise with its excellent use of violence. Yet, it never manages to feel gratuitous, as it's constantly utilized to either contribute to the film's humor or display the character of Jack in a form that he has been hiding away for years. However, all of his progress is about to come crashing down. Krawczyk clearly knows how ridiculous things become, which is why the material is constantly humorous. Only a couple of elements are actually taken seriously, otherwise the remainder of the feature easily laughs at itself, making for an enjoyable cinematic experience.

While we ultimately discover Jack's real identity, neither Jack nor the audience knows exactly what he is. However, Krawczyk includes some twists and turns that are both unpredictable and fitting. However, there is very little of an actual narrative here. It's actually more of a character-driven film that happens to have a blend of elements from different genres. It can sometimes come across as a bit of a mess, but that doesn't distract from the insane amount of fun that can be had here. The conclusion introduces a fascinating element, and I would have loved to see how the story would continue. This truly could work as a mini series, which is quite the compliment. He Never Died manages to take a concept that isn't entirely new and transform it into something truly worthwhile.

Even so, the film's biggest strength is Henry Rollins in the role of Jack. He's been working in the film industry for years, but this is the best performance of his career. He perfectly fits the character in every sense. Rollins has the intimidating presence required, but delivers an abundance of laughs. The character doesn't call for much depth, but a large amount of the feature's sense of humor comes from Rollins' reaction shots and delivery of dialogue. The casting simply couldn't have been better.

Writer/director Jason Krawczyk may still be relatively new to the craft, but He Never Died is a polished film that looks great. There are some excellent gross-out gags that are massively effective, especially when it comes to the sound effects created as Jack feasts upon his victims. Unfortunately, the majority of the action sequences take place off screen, but this is most likely due to budget constraints. Nevertheless, the film manages to pull off a fittingly dark and gritty atmosphere, which is a great contrast to the comedy.

Thanks to Henry Rollins, He Never Died is a hilariously successful genre film with a lot to offer in the entertainment realm. While its a mix of elements from numerous genres makes for a slightly sloppy narrative, it thrives as a character piece. Writer/director Jason Krawczyk's screenplay manages to make great use of the father-daughter relationship, as well as the twists and turns that occur in Jack's character development. He's the type of role that could easily sustain the content for much longer than 99 minutes. This is a film that manages to be funny, dark, grotesque, and mysterious all at the same time, and the fact that the pacing manages to work so well is impressive. He Never Died is big, bold, and badass. Recommended.

He Never Died played at SXSW Film Festival 2015 on March 17th, March 18th, and March 20th.



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