A review of
He Never Died
By Christopher Ouellette
It can be very hard to get the right balance for a likable super hero. You need him to be somehow able to stand up to amazing odds and thrill with magnificent feats of daring. At the same time, they have to be relatable. They have to have some way that they could lose, so that the fighting means something. Henry Rollins’s character, Jack, strikes that balance perfectly in the new film He Never Died. (That’s right, there are new films out that are not Episode VII.) This movie is dark and gritty, but once again, it has a great sense of balance. There are likable characters that make you happy to see them and concerned about their situation. It feels like early Quentin Tarantino with a supernatural twist.
Now before I go on, I will get into information that is revealed in the trailer, but seems like a spoiler to me. I’ll say, if you like cool guys, being awesome, and over-the-top characters with over-the-top violence played with a respect that brings inevitability to the whole thing, then you should just stop here and check out this film.
If you want more information (and there is a lot of research to say that spoilers do not take away enjoyment, but who knows) I will go on with actual analysis of the film. Jack lives alone in a crappy apartment. He sleeps a lot, but is haunted by sounds of terror. He finds refuge in a local church by playing a very focused game of Bingo. With healing powers, a likably gruff exterior and smarts that seem to trap him in his own thoughts, he is a beautiful blend of Old Man Wolverine, and Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.
He is tangentially involved with illegal activities, but it’s more that he keeps to himself. So he doesn’t care what anyone else is doing, and he doesn’t pay attention to his associates. As layers are stripped away, you we learn about his life and powers. Currently, the thing that most looks like a relationship in his life is his ordering from the same diner waitress, who has an obvious tenderness for him. His last actual relationship was 19 years ago, and he has just found out that he has a daughter.
Finding quickly that you cannot really hurt a man who can regenerate, the bad guys quickly move to kidnapping. Jack can easily destroy the enemy, but his struggle is against caring. He goes to the diner daily, and he refuses to see the kind woman who cares for him. He goes to a church daily and plays a game that’s value is that he can ignore those around him.
So what’s going on with Jack? He is actually Cain, the Biblical son of Adam and Eve, who killed his brother Able. Cain was cursed by God to wander but given a mark that would not allow others to kill him, but visit the assailant’s evil back on him seven times over. The way this plays out in the movie version of the character is that he is this world’s only true vampire. Not only will nothing kill him, but he is willing to eat anyone who threatens him.
This is the kind of story I love. The situations are super weird and the characters are hyper cartoony, but there is a true humanity to the entire thing that makes you like everyone. The film quickly makes you invested, and you want to see things work out for Jack, his daughter and his waitress.
There is a fabulous sequence when Jack has ‘fallen off the wagon’ and is eating people again. He walks angrily through town dealing with his hunger. He runs into, of all things, the kindness of humanity. People who check on him, apologize for bumping into him and return money he dropped. At this point you are learning that he only retaliates, but that knowledge comes when you fear that ‘oh no, this guy is going to get it!’ But that is oddly resolved into a sadness for the character, whose thirst for blood and violence causes him to simply be disappointed by the kindness of others not giving him the chance to attack.
This is one of those movies that keeps giving you a lot of weird imagery and situations up front, and then it takes away curtains that explain the world. You journey along as the woman gets to know Jack and Jack gets to know himself.
Now I would like to warn you again. I’m going to another level of spoilers here:
The natural flow of this film, with its inviting characters and exiting weirdness and violence, brings you through to the final confrontation. It’s one of those great endings that makes you realize that you and Jack had it all wrong.
The fight was not against an evil man. The fight was against his baser nature. The nature of Cain. “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (God to Cain in Genesis 4:7).
This line is not in the movie, but it is the theme of the film. Jack/Cain has lived thousands of lifetimes, abstaining from violence for his own good and then giving into his own bloodlust for the comfort of his own desires. As he looks down at the broken body of a man who deserves to die, he must confront himself, he must confront God and he must choose his desire for blood or to do what is right.
This was a fun movie. The acting was spot on, and the writing was smart. It felt and looked cool at all times. But despite being very bloody and grimy, dark and brooding, it did not take the easy ways out of nihilism or preachy optimism. It’s not bullied into spelling everything out for you, but doesn’t hand you the egotistical film student ‘what do you think happened’ ending either. It gives you enough to put all the story points together into a satisfying cohesion that feels encouraging and rises out of the abyss by the end.
You can get He Never Died from Amazon.
Christopher Ouellette, host of the Beware of Monsters podcast, is a reservoir of classic monster knowledge and the creatures featured in Jeremy Robinson novels. He has worked as a puppeteer and is the director for Chesterton Stage Productions.