Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Director: Jason Krawczyk
Writer: Jason Krawczyk
Producer: Zach Hagen
Stars: Henry Rollins, Steven Ogg, Kate Greenhouse, Booboo Stewart, James Cade, A.C. Peterson, Jordan Todosey, David Richmond Peck, Aron Tager, Michael Cram, Don Francks
A loner desperate to curb his cannibalistic urges finds his life upturned by underworld mobsters and the unexpected arrival of a long lost daughter.
Centering on a supernatural antihero worn weary by average humans until reluctantly resigning to nondescriptly participate in their mundane world, “He Never Died” echoes the same flatline heartbeat pumping casually through “Only Lovers Left Alive” (review here). Good news for fans of Jim Jarmusch’s yawning exploration of the modern hipster vampire. Bad news for anyone unexcited by another sleepy stroll through the woeful lifestyle of the disinterested undead.
Jack is a sour-faced, keeps-to-himself recluse who doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t eat meat, and by his own admission, does “nothing much” with his daily life aside from sleeping extended hours and playing bingo with senior citizens. Unexpectedly appearing on Jack’s doorstep one day is the 19-year-old daughter he never knew he had. Andrea quickly dubs her dad “boring” and she is not at all wrong. The bulk of “He Never Died” features Jack meandering through melancholy, and the audience must meander alongside him as Jack naps, walks, wanders, and sits in a booth during seemingly countless visits to the local diner.
Although his regular routine is wholly uninteresting, Jack also happens to be a cannibalistic member of the functionally undead. Suppressing his urges to consume human flesh becomes further complicated by the arrival of underworld thugs who awaken Jack’s sinful desires when their plan to tear up Jack’s life turns into a tearing out of their throats. Once Jack’s daughter is kidnapped as a bargaining chip, the undead cannibal zombie vampire has little choice but to stop being a hermit and start embracing his inhuman nature as a mean, nasty, bloodthirsty brute. Jack just wants to be left alone. And he is willing to rip off anyone’s head if that is what it takes to finally bring him some solitary peace.
“He Never Died” is undeniably a Henry Rollins highlight reel and in that regard, no fan could ask for a finer showcase of his unique onscreen presence. Be that as it may, even those who appreciate the personality Rollins crafts with his performance may find themselves fighting the drone of his purposefully passive cadence and largely expressionless demeanor. These are stylistic acting choices justified by the type of character Jack is supposed to be, and they fit snugly within Rollins’ persona. However, his deadpan dialogue delivery and matter-of-fact characterization reads like Rain Man in short order and it becomes taxing to stay tuned to the monotone rhythm through 97 minutes.
Other than fervent fans of star Henry Rollins, the schizophrenic storyline and wayward thematic direction make it unclear who the target audience actually is. "He Never Died" bounces through swaths of drily black comedy, droll drama, and gory horror without settling into a clear stride that identifies the intended entertainment or artistic purpose. Highlighting this "try anything" tableau of disparate elements is confusing sound design that mixes together background noise of subway cars, chugging trains, neighing horses, pinging bullets, exploding bombs, and random Hitler speeches. The din apparently mirrors Jack's fractured head full of historic horrors and tortured memories, although what a space shuttle countdown announcer has to do with that I can only begin to guess.
The film basically boils down to a character study of a person who is frankly, not entirely interesting. Or at least, this particular chapter of his story is not as interesting as the character should have the potential to be.
Jack is someone whose origin dates back to biblical times, includes an insinuation that he may have been Count Dracula, and features all manner of globe-spanning activity encompassing several centuries’ worth of world history. Yet “He Never Died” posits that the story of his worth telling first involves church hall bingo, ineffective mobsters, an elderly landlady, and a waitress who co-owns a car with her abusive mailman boyfriend. Whatever the draw into “He Never Died” is meant to be, it doesn’t come from a supporting cast that just isn’t as colorful as Jack’s world is painted to be.
Various reports contend that writer/director Jason Krawczyk has designs on developing “He Never Died” into an episodic series. That possibility goes far in explaining why characters come and go without complete arcs and why an ambiguous ending arrives so abruptly that it feels like a jarring halt instead of a satisfying conclusion.
Jack’s daughter Andrea exits in the middle act as an ignored plot device almost as quickly as she enters full of perky promise that the script never fulfills. Jack's diner dame love interest takes a cue from the griddle and waffles dizzyingly on the direction she wishes to go with their relationship. And without one specified by the screenplay, the role played by a fedora-clad mystery man is left to the audience to invent. If true that threads stay untied so the film can serve as a backdoor pilot, then film viewers are being cheated out of a complete narrative, and it shows.
That said, the expository setup that "He Never Died" doubles as does establish Jack as a potentially compelling character. Yet as a fully formed feature, the supporting storytelling components that should be surrounding him are sadly absent from what could have been a rich atmosphere.
Review Score: 55