Hardcore Henry arrives in theaters this week and it is a movie told entirely in the first-person perspective. Will it hold up for an hour and a half? Time will tell. With that said it’s hardly the first time we’ve seen the idea tackled on a smaller scale in all forms of media, including Henry director Ilya Naishuller’s NSFW music video that started his career. Here are eight prime examples of the concept being attempted, with varying degrees of success:
The Lawnmower Man
The Lawnmower Man is one of the best worst movies ever featuring virtual reality. In the often-panned science fiction horror film, Jobe is a dimwitted groundskeeper who undergoes a major life change when a program to boost his intellect through VR technology gets out of control. The visual effects in the film are very outdated by today’s standards, but back in the early 90’s the scenes of first-person CGI were fairly advanced. Even if the movie doesn’t suit you, the virtual reality sequences are worth seeing just for their time capsule credibility alone. [Andrew Hawkins]
Enter the Void
Easily the most ambitious first-person feature ever to actually get made, Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void uses the first-person perspective in the most metaphysical of ways: to represent a consciousness traversing the entirety of its own existence. Heady stuff, no?
The story is actually pretty simple: drug dealer Oscar is killed in Tokyo and his soul (?) leaves his body and journeys through his past, present, and eventual future. The movie draws upon The Tibetan Book of the Dead’s interpretation of the afterlife as well as numerous accounts of transcendental psychedelic experiences. It’s more of an experience than it is a movie, so your mileage will certainly vary with something as unprecedented as a first-person trip through life, death and what lies beyond. If you’re into that sort of thing, this is a must-see. At the very least, check out the opening credits. You’ll thank me (or hate me) after you watch them. [Drew Dietsch]
Brainscan, starring Edward Furlong, Frank Langella and T. Ryder Smith, is a smaller film that focuses on the life of a troubled teen who may be turning into a serial killer. When horror buff and high school outcast Michael orders a new virtual reality video game called Brainscan, he is thrust into a supernatural plot that could easily mean life or death for his friends and neighbors. The first person elements of this film happen when Michael is playing the game and stalking his victims. Some of the scenes from his perspective get pretty graphic, but nothing compares to the final showdown he has with the supernaturally evil game master called The Trickster. [Andrew Hawkins]
French director Franck Khalfoun doesn’t exactly come from a strong pedigree of horror filmmaking. His first film, P2, was awful and fell flat on its face at the box office after opening in over 2100 theaters. After that, Khalfoun directed a low-budget crime thriller (a movie I’d never heard of before today) that went straight to DVD. Then, he directed Maniac.
A 2012 remake of William Lustig’s 1980 sleazefest, Khalfoun and writer/producer Alexandre Aja (who himself has directed three horror remakes) envisioned the film as a first-person horror experience, placing you in the head of Frank Zito, a twisted serial killer who owns a creepy mannequin store. Who would play this depraved murderer? Why, Elijah Wood, of course!
The finished film was an unconventional marvel of filmmaking technique and received quite a bit of festival buzz before making its US debut. Its first-person tricks are accomplished impeccably, with a level of gloss I never expected. The film only pulls out of Frank’s perspective when he disassociates, seeing himself as a detached other, making for powerfully emotional scenes of trauma. The film’s sleaze is there in full force, and the filmmaking style makes it feel all the more real and personal. Anchored by a great score and a strong performance from Elijah Wood, Maniac is one of the most polished and impressive examples of first-person cinema. [Travis Newton]
Smack My B*tch Up
Smack My B*tch Up by The Prodigy was one of the most controversial music videos of its time. Released in 1997, the song’s video debuted with almost instant negative reception from censors and parents. The first person scenes of drunken and drug-fueled debauchery and violence made for an interesting and provocative watch, and the video still holds up as a window into the world of out of control party excess. One of the hottest topics surrounding this video was the reveal at the end when we see in the mirror that we have been witnessing this insanity from the eyes of a woman. Regardless of what you think about the main character’s actions, this music video is still very intense and features one of The Prodigy’s all-time best tracks. [Andrew Hawkins]
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is always pushing the edges of the medium to see how flexible it is and in its most recent season the show did an entire episode from inside the warped and perverse head of Danny DeVito’s Frank. There are fun moments throughout and it sticks to the formula for the entire duration though it’s not an easy watch since Frank is absolutely vile at times. Here’s hoping the show lasts long enough for each of the main characters to get the treatment. An episode from the perspective of Dennis may be the best thing to happen to the planet. [Nick Nunziata]
More is a short claymation film by director Mark Osborne that takes place in a dystopian world filled with grey days and malaise. Our main character in this emotional and thought-provoking short is a fragile creature who toils away in a factory every day. When he begins to work on an invention that turns a pair of goggles into a kind of augmented reality happiness viewer, he becomes the most powerful person in his world. When characters put their happy glasses on, we see the bleak and dark world turned into a vibrant and colorful realm full of charm and joy. More was made in IMAX format and features amazing visuals. There’s a reason why this one was nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar in 1998. [Andrew Hawkins]
Doom isn’t a good movie. It tries valiantly but ends up being just another game-to-movie adaptation that doesn’t know what to do with itself. Its most bizarre and oddly faithful moment comes during a kinetic and wild first-person sequence that puts you in the shoes of a gun-wielding hero laying waste to enemies. There’s lots of gunplay and monsters and grunting violence and loud music. As the director intended, it’s just like a video game. Perhaps if the entire film committed to the first-person perspective it would have been better. It’s certainly a fascinating homage to the source material. To this day, that ultra long scene is talked about despite the film itself being mostly forgotten. You can see glimpses of greatness in there. It didn’t translate to a good movie but it certainly made a memorable moment. It was different, it was fast and wild, it was just like playing a game. Except not nearly as fun as playing a game. [Brandon Marcus]