He Never Died (2015)
Director: Jason Krawczyk
Synopsis: The biblical character Cain is made manifest in surly metropolitan loner Jack (Henry Rollins), an immortal protagonist at constant odds with his baser nature that drives him to feed on human flesh. As a result, he must force himself into self-imposed isolation from others, and bribe a local medical student to supply him with human blood. But all of the sobriety that Jack has been able to establish for himself over the course of recent years is put to the test when a former employer and local crime lord kidnaps his daughter, forcing Jack back to committing the Devil’s work.
Overall: In writer-director Jason Krawczyk’s hands, the fairly convoluted and potentially over eager thematic potential of He Never Died is held at arm’s length, as the director allows for a fairly fine tuned philosophic dialogue to unfold surrounding the nature of addiction, sobriety, and all of the moral guilt that comes wrapped up in any Alcoholics Anonymous program. Rollins turns in what might be one of the more thrilling performances within the horror-comedy genre, as the man-eating cannibal Cain, forced to live out purgatory as an immortal damned to feast upon the living, despite his better judgment and remorse for having killed his only brother Able so many ages ago.
At surface level, He Never Died is a skuzzy, ultra-violent revenge thriller, with buckets of blood and hyper-realistic violence to indulge in. Beyond that, Krawczyk has perhaps done the unthinkable, and crafted a contemporary fable out of Biblical themes that wouldn’t feel entirely out of place within the larger echelon of modern superhero narratives proliferating big screens the world over. What’s more, Jack is a highly fascinating and ethically burdened hero to match the likes of Marvel Studios’ Daredevil or Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as Rollins never relents in his earnest attempt at grounding his character within the realm of the real world, no mater however fantastic the surrounding film’s premise remains.
As a superhero, Jack, or the Bible’s Cain as viewers find out in the movie’s near-revelatory final scene, Rollins is something of a reluctant savior, having spent most of his life in hiding, or else indulging in sin and depravity to such depths that he has become a husk of his former self. Like Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Jack is something of a black sheep, far from his herd, and striving to remain apart from it for the betterment of society at large. In his heart of hearts, Jack knows that he is damned creature, doomed to walk the earth for all eternity as an abomination of his former self, a monster made in the Devil’s image. But in his own heartbroken defeat and acceptance of his own soul-less inhumanity, his character is granted the saving grace of having learned from his original sin, and becoming a man no different from any other walking the streets in mournful desperation.
Krawczyk has captured something seemingly impossible in his He Never Died, as the film by turns revels in the gore of the most excessive horror genre film, while maintaining the core drama felt inherently by its chief protagonist. Despite having initially been pitched as being a movie wherein, “Henry Rollins eats people,” Krawczyk has leant the former Black Flag lead singer a real film role to sink his teeth into, and by proxy explore yet another facet of his highly original artistic voice and presence. It’s easy to mock the film for its overt gimmick-based theatricality, and much of the film borrows heavily in aesthetic schlock value from past B-movie horror successes such as Army of Darkness and The Devil’s Rejects. But in Rollins’ ability to emote far beyond the confines of the film’s demonic possession-based narrative premise, his Cain is leant all of the moral credence and parabolic finality of the original Biblical story, thus lending coherence to all of the bluster of the brusque and forceful title that is He Never Died.