Henry Rollins has parlayed his status as a punk rock icon into a number of different facets. He’s written books and essays, gone on a number of successful speaking tours, has had a radio show, and acted in supporting roles in a number of films, funnily enough typically as an authority figure. But Rollins has never headlined his own movie. That omission on his expansive résumé is now rectified with He Never Died, a new horror-thriller from writer-director Jason Krawczyk. However, He Never Died isn’t exactly a rousing cinematic experience, as I was fighting desperately not to doze off during the film and its deadpan lead character and asinine twists. That being said, though, the group of hardcore Rollins fans in attendance at the Beyond Fest screening seemed to eat up everything that was being served in the film. I wish I could’ve joined them.
Rollins plays Jack, a social recluse who speaks in abbreviated sentences that makes Hemingway seems wordy and long-winded. He spends most of his time alone in his apartment, typically only leaving to play bingo at church and to eat a local diner where he’s somewhat friendly with the waitress Cara (Kate Greenhouse). Jack gets mysterious deliveries from his “intern” Jeremy (Booboo Stewart). But when Jeremy runs into financial problems with hired goons looking to beat payment out of him, Jack intervenes in a cold, collected, and violent manner. Jack is briefly reunited with his estranged daughter Andrea (Jordan Todosey), who has a proclivity to drink a bit too much to the dismay of the stoic Jack. But those hired goons aren’t done with Jack and kidnap Andrea to get to him, which sends Jack on a violent rampage that leads straight to the mob boss (Steven Ogg) that he used to work with.
Jack goes on his killing spree like a John Wick devoid of personality. He has little personality because he’s immortal, bored with existence. At first, we’re led to believe that Jack is nothing more than a vampire, drinking blood and eating the flesh of his victims. Oh no, that’s not all as it is later revealed that Jack is Cain – yes, Cain from the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Somehow, humanity’s first murderer was granted eternal life. The ridiculous reveal comes rather late in the film and does nothing to alleviate the fact that Jack is really boring character up until this point. There’s little tension with a character that doesn’t have to deal with any sense of mortality in a story that is entirely predicated on violence. No matter what, he’s making it out alive just as stoic and boring as ever.
As a director Jason Krawczyk does an adequate job. His shots are neat and well-framed. From the opening he gets across that Jack is a troubled individual, though he over-emphasizes that point with demonic sound effects and screams playing over the image of Rollins’ Jack. As a writer, however, Krawczyk can’t put all his ideas together into a story that makes sense or ever really works. When the reveal finally happens there’s this immediate feeling of, “Oh, come on!” Krawczyk does sneak in bits of humor into the film, though most of them didn’t land on me as much as they did the surrounding audience – it seemed very much a one-note gag to me as Jack is coldly indifferent towards seeing brutality first-hand. He Never Died can never get past the problem that Jack’s stoicism obscures all personality until it’s far too late.
There’s an audience out there for He Never Died, but it’s a limited one. Even someone like myself, a fan of schlocky horror, will have trouble warming up to the cold, indifferent characters and the outlandish and underwhelming twists. There’s a certain attempt at a high-minded approach to He Never Died which undermines the inherent grindhouse absurdity of the film. I found little to be engaging within He Never Died, and this slog of ultraviolence left me as cold as its characters, dead and living.