Ilya Naishuller’s unconventional action shoot-em-up film Hardcore Henry (2015) has polarized opinion. At the time of writing this, it has a 51 percent approval rating from92 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. The film won the Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, yet here at PopMatters, we ceremoniously awarded the film a one out of ten score, with Bill Gibron finding the movie: “a gimmick. It’s not a movie since it doesn’t even pretend to offer the basics of the artform — story, character, drama, excitement, suspense, etc.”
The “gimmick”, according to Hardcore Henry’s own Indiegogo crowd-funding page is that it is “The First Ever Action POV Feature Film.” In the history of cinema, it appears to have taken over 120 years to get to this statement, which seems pretty significant, so I thought I would use my first Reaction Shot article to explore what this might mean.
To understand what the POV shot is, and why it isn’t usually used for the duration of entire films, let’s go back to film school for a moment. As Edward Branigan explains: “The POV shot is a shot in which the camera assumes the position of a subject in order to show us what the subject sees.”
This is usually established through two shots, which lend context to each other. A shot of Person A looking off camera at Person B might be followed by an eye-line match shot from Person A’s imagined POV perspective of Person B. In this instance, as they are edited together in sequence, we would understand more of the context of the second shot (the POV shot) from what we have seen in the first shot. This example would also work for a monkey looking at banana or a banana “looking” at a monkey: it’s a flexible system, but it’s quite easy to see how a lack of context could render the POV shot quite limited.
To understand how the POV isn’t necessarily the best way to convey information when used solely on its own, one only has to look at the DVD bonus content for season one of Daredevil (2015), where the “Daredevil P.O.V. Fight Scene” is one long sustained period of pitch blackness as the character is blind.
However, POVs set up with at least one other shot, or with variations for effect, are a common stylistic device. In action films, like Predator (1988) and Universal Soldier(2012); horror films, such as Halloween (1978) and Jaws; comedies, including The Gold Rush (1925), or The Royal Tenenbaums (2001); and as a part of a consistent stylistic repertoire from directors such as Hitchcock, Tarantino, or the Coen Brothers, as with any shot selection from the film-makers handbook, the POV shot is utilized in ways that both work with a viewer’s expectations and plays against them…
The full 4,400 word version of this essay is published at Popmatters.com, where you can read the rest of the article for free.