I feel bad for anyone going into He Never Died for the first time having had their expectations set by the film's trailer. Fortunately, I went in with little to no information about it beyond surface details, and that's what I suggest anyone curious about this film - currently available on Netflix - should do, as the trailer, which I watched after the fact, both mischaracterizes the final product as a crazy revenge story and completely gives away a massive reveal about its primary character.
He Never Died tells the story of Henry Rollins' Jack, the ultimate loner with no real people skills and the worst case of tinnitus imaginable. He doesn't drink, smoke, or eat meat at the outset of the film, which essentially follows his routine life of frequenting a local diner, playing Bingo, and doing nothing but sleep and be lazy at home.
Throughout its runtime, he repeatedly encounters shady mobsters, awkwardly copes with a waitress who's attracted to him, and meets a teenage daughter he never knew about, who ultimately gets kidnapped. The trailers would have viewers believe that this event is the crux of the narrative, and that they're in for a story wherein Jack would do anything to get his daughter back, no matter the cost.
And yet, that's far from reality. Everything does, in fact, come together in the film's final act, but for the most part Jack is disinterested in rescuing her until he has no other choice. Everything and everyone else in the film is secondary to its interest in Jack simply being Jack, who - after a series of crazy events - is revealed to the audience to be an immortal being with a penchant for cannibalism, a fact he struggles to suppress until it overpowers him.
Again, the trailer for the film completely gives away who Jack actually is - spoiler: he's more than just a cannibal - which is bizarre, as so much of what works about the film stems for its patient doling out of details about him leading up to the big reveal. There's a huge mystery at the core of the film about who he is and why he does what he does, and for anyone not spoiled by the film's marketing, the payoff surrounding his true identity is intriguing.
As I said, the seemingly disparate plot threads in Jack's life all come together by the end, but the film itself is never in a rush to get there, meandering through scenes just like Jack himself. The plot is, ultimately, the least interesting thing about the whole affair, which is oddly fine simply due to the fact that Rollins is just so engaging to watch.
Had the casting for Jack been off in even the slightest of ways, the whole film would've fallen apart. Even though there's a handful of other characters, this is Rollins' show through and through, and while Jack tends to be an abrasive, matter-of-fact jerk, Rollins continually finds ways to make the character likeable anyway, thanks in large part to his straight-faced comedic timing.
There are supernatural and horror elements sprinkled throughout, but what truly gives the film life is its gleeful sense of dark humor. From the way Jack talks and acts to the way he partakes in violence to the way others interact with him, it all adds up to give the film a personality that, while not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, is uniquely amusing.
At the end of the day, He Never Dies is an odd creature of a film. It's been marketed as an action/horror feature, but it really isn't, and if that's purely what someone wants out of it, I can't recommend it, because it would only disappoint. On top of that, there's not a whole lot for me to dissect about it, as the film really exists to showcase Rollins doing his thing for a little over an hour and a half and not much else - something it does succeed in doing - up until the end, when new layers are peeled back that almost feel like setup for a sequel. That said, if you're open to a slow burn of a film that relishes in dark humor where the wandering journey of an engaging main character is more interesting than the actual narrative destination, I can definitely suggest it as something to check out on a lazy weekend, where the less you know going in, the better.
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