'He Never Died': Fantasia Review
Henry Rollins takes a starring role as an ennui-plagued vampire.
Former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins has held audiences' attention in myriad surprising ways, shifting from punk singer to monologuist to radio host and IFC film critic. But in a two-decade career of sporadic acting work, he has never had a leading role until Jason Krawczyk's He Never Died. Judging from this film, whose understated action syncs nicely with its star's self-aware stonefaced attitude, that was an oversight. Rollins' fans will love him in the picture, which imagines an immortal man whose boredom with the world far surpasses that of other jaded movie vampires; and while the action may be too slow-moving for many who don't count themselves in that camp of fans, the exceedingly dry humor of his performance may win a few over.
Rollins has long traded on 1,000 psi testosterone and drill-sergeant seriousness, but he refines this persona instead of using it as shtick here. His Jack seems to be clinically depressed, sleeping all hours and adhering to a joyless routine of diner meals and bingo games. When violence or confrontation comes to him, as happens from the start, he greets them not with ferocity but with an almost bored annoyance. Someone punches him hard in the face. "Don't," he says.
Though the title acknowledges Jack's immortality, the film is coy about its nature, and the shorthand of calling him a vampire may not be quite accurate. What we do know early on is that, while you may hurt the dude, nothing you do will kill him. (How old is he? "I don't know, but I'm in the Bible if that means anything ...") This comes in handy when his illicit dealings with a hospital employee — one guess what's in the packages he buys — lead to confrontations with goons and the sleazy kingpin-type they work for (Steven Ogg, not nearly as restrained as Rollins is).
Krawczyk shifts the focus away from genre kicks toward Jack's deeper nature by focusing on his newfound sense of obligation to a teen daughter (Jordan Todosey) he never knew he had and his interactions with Cara (Kate Greenhouse), the sad-eyed waitress who serves him supper every night. The latter relationship is especially effective, drawing out the loneliness of eternal life and supplying some of the movie's funnier moments. While He Never Died is hardly a comedy — it's bloody and reflective, with a gloomy side that sometimes threatens to sink it — these wry moments are central to its appeal.
Production company: Alternate Ending Studios
Cast: Henry Rollins, Booboo Stewart, Jordan Todosey, Kate Greenhouse, Steven Ogg
Director-Screenwriter: Jason Krawczyk
Producers: Zach Hagen, Adrienne Stern
Executive producers: Robert Benvie, Jonathan Bronfman, David Miller, Dan Peel
Director of photography: Eric Billman
Production designer: Diana Abbatangelo
Costume designer: Michelle Lyte
Editor: James Bredin
Music: James Mark Stewart
Casting directors: Larissa Mair, Adrienne Stern
No rating, 96 minutes