I know I’ve said this before, but Netflix just cannot figure me out. I’ve been using the service for over a decade and it still consistently estimates my appreciation of films with a huge margin of error. The algorithm thought I’d like Dredd less than 3 stars for fuck’s sake! And for the first few weeks after it showed up, it thought I’d like The Do-Over nearly 5 stars! (i understand there may some not-so-surprising bias there) Needless to say, I take their estimates with a big grain of salt. So, when Netflix expected me to like the Henry Rollins vehicle, He Never Died, nearly 5 stars, I put it in my queue but didn’t trip over myself trying to watch it ASAP. Now that I’ve watched it, I can tell you how the algorithm did this time around. All you have to do, is read on!
Jack is a solitary guy living in a shitty little apartment. He spends his time sleeping, walking, playing bingo, going to mass, and eating at the same diner every day. He has a very unique way of interacting with others that makes him seem almost autistic. Every couple of days, he grabs a handful of cash from the millions he has stored in a trunk at the foot of his bed (along with some very old looking antiques) and he pays a med student for mysterious packages. When a couple of thugs come to him while looking for that med student, Jack isn’t very cooperative (or intimidated). He sends them packing after a scuffle that leaves him bloodied from a gunshot wound that didn’t seem to phase him in the least. Soon after, Jack meets his teenage daughter, Andrea, for the first time. He’s not very cooperative with her either. The thugs end up finding the med student but Jack intervenes before they can kill him and rescues the young man (mostly because he wants to get his mysterious package from the guy’s trunk). This does not please the criminals higher up the chain of command, and Jack (and, by extension, Andrea) becomes their next target. It quickly becomes obvious that they’re biting off more than they can chew.
I went into this with a couple of preconceived notions. First, it sounded stupid to me (thanks to the Netflix blurb). Secondly, Henry Rollins (Jack) cannot act. I know that I should be more objective. I know. But in this case, it worked out for the better. He Never Died is no masterpiece. It has its flaws (see below). But, my low mental bar meant that the film only needed to be halfway decent for me to be pleasantly surprised. And I was. Let me get the grumbling out of the way first, and then I’ll tell you why. My biggest complaint about He Never Died is its glaring lack of narrative logic. Jack is only entangled in the small-time mobsters’ business when his mysterious package dealer gets on their bad sides. So why do they come at him so hard right from the start? And why do they spend so much time on him? After they realize that he’s seemingly impervious to pain and utterly unflappable, why not just leave the guy alone? There’s a reveal later on that addresses this a bit but the reveal itself is a head-scratcher to say the least. It raised more questions than it answered. And Jack’s behavior – specifically in regards to his daughter and her safety – is baffling. Not just because he’s a mysterious person who feels neither pain nor love (or does he?), but because he does one thing one moment and a contradictory thing the next. Then there’s the even more mysterious figure that may be stalking or haunting Jack who never really gets a satisfying explanation. Is it who you think it is? Who knows! It ends up feeling a little bit hackneyed. With all of the above in mind, how could I have liked it as much as I did? (i’m glad you asked!) For starters, Rollins is pretty damn badass. He plays the grizzled old weirdo perfectly. I don’t know if the role was written specifically for him or not, but the filmmakers definitely played to Rollins’s strengths. And even though the mythology is a bit muddled, it’s a lot of fun to tease out the clues retroactively once pieces of the mystery man puzzle start falling into place. It’s also fun to guess ahead of the revelations, but I was way off. (well, not that far off) The violence is also unique. Jack is definitely not a superhero (ie: impervious to injury) but he sure doesn’t seem to mind getting shot / stabbed / punched / etc. The first time he casually slaps a gun out of a dude’s hand without bothering to fight or get the upper-hand in any way is pretty surprising. And it puts the viewer off balance from that point on. The film has a few of these points where it twists viewer expectations. By doing so, it manages to be a unique surprise among indie genre films (despite its flaws).
The Final Cut: He Never Died is a fun but flawed supernatural near-noir (almost-noir?). It’s clever twists and the brilliant casting of Rollins make it definitely worth a watch.