Wow. The Frontier might still be my favorite South by South West film, but He Never Died is an incredibly close second. It was, without a doubt, the most fun I’ve had at a movie since coming to the festival. Admittedly, that may just be because I’m a fan of the lead actor, Henry Rollins, but I’d like to think that’s only a small part of it.
Rollins plays Jack, a man with nothing left to do because he’s already done everything. He’s immortal, you see (title explained!), older than he can remember, and with an insatiable hunger for flesh and blood (and yes, there is a vampire reference in the film). He spends most of days doing a lot of nothing – aside from a bingo game or two – but his dull existence is shaken up by a couple of unexpected events: a daughter he never knew about (Jordan Todosey) comes for a visit, and his blood supplier (Booboo Stewart) runs afoul of some local mobsters.
And with a premise like that, I’m already in for the ride. The only question is, how much fun can the filmmaker have with it. Turns out writer/director Jason Krawczyk can have a lot of fun with an unkillable cannibal. The promotional material for He Never Died made it look like a dark, violent, and serious picture, which was a bit misleading. Dark, yes; violent, hell yes; but there’s a lot of humor in it as well. A lot of the laughs come from Rollins and his mostly reserved performance. Jack has seen it all and is phased by none, so it’s quite funny just to see his nonplused reactions to the chaos around. The regular humans (both good and evil) will be losing there shit over the eye gouging and throat tearing, and Jack will just shrug and ask if they can move on already.
Rollins likes to endlessly poke fun at his acting skills – or lack thereof – and admittedly for a lot of his early roles the fun came mostly from watching and knowing it was him – as is often the case when you book a musician in an acting gig. But he has improved considerably over the years. It became clear to me when I realized in the middle of the film, at some point I had stopped thinking, “that’s Henry Rollins playing a character,” and had shifted to, “that’s Jack.” Rollins is well known for his ability to howl and scream (he is a punk rocker, after all), but as mentioned before, he’s quite reserved the for most of the film (save for a few key moments where he lets the beast come roaring out).
I’m spending a lot of time on Rollins (he is the headliner after all), but I don’t want to take anything away from the supporting cast. The two main females (Todosey and Kate Greenhouse) especially have great chemistry with each other and Rollins – as they should because he spends a lot of his screen time with both of them. Finally, Krawcyzk’s script does something I particularly like: it gives away enough information to understand the story and characters, but keeps enough hidden so the audience can make their own assumptions. After it was over I thought there were so many more stories that could have been told in this world. And it turns out I was right; during the Q & A afterward, Krawczyk mentioned he wanted to make a sequel in the form of a TV miniseries. So, watch He Never Died and support the followup adventures of an ageless disenchanted eater of menl