Many times, the ‘less is more’ approach to storytelling can really enhance a film and such is the case with Jason Krawczyk’s He Never Died- a minimalist look at the life of a cannibal who also has been bestowed with the gift of eternal life. Without bogging viewers down with too much exposition, Krawczyk allows his star Henry Rollins to do what he does best as an actor and give us a dryly comedic but equally compelling examination of how someone who has experienced such an extraordinary existence could ultimately tire of their own existence after a few millennia. The results are a powerfully simple and nuanced exploration of what it means to be human, all served up with a fun neo-noir, blood-soaked twist.
In He Never Died, we are introduced to Jack (Rollins), a simple man who wants nothing more out of life at this point than to grab dinner every day at his favorite local diner, play some bingo at the senior center and to be left alone. Unfortunately for him, Jack just can’t seem to get any kind of peace and quiet after he’s visited by some mysterious thugs who do their best to threaten his life (a big mistake on their part, of course) and then the daughter he never knew he had by the name of Andrea (Jordan Todosey) shows up one day, further complicating his life. Unbeknownst to most, Jack is a cannibal with an even stranger affliction- eternal life- and as his personal life and previous sins start to catch up with him finally, Jack is forced to reevaluate his purpose, his immortality and confront his inability to maintain any kind of human relationship whatsoever, despite having plenty of time to brush up on his people skills.
Undoubtedly, He Never Died lives and dies (no pun intended) by the strength of Rollins’ iron-jaw performance here as the punk-rocker-turned-thespian shows up in practically every single scene throughout the film. His work consistently and ferociously drives the story forward, keeping us squarely focused on Jack in the present more so than who Jack was in the past (his story is alluded to but Krawczyk smartly doesn’t overexplain his entire history, ultimately leaving it to our imaginations) and while it’s surely a heavy burden, Rollins somehow makes it look easy, relying on his own sardonic wit to balance out some of Jack’s darker impulses. Rollins has mostly been a guy who has shown up in supporting roles over the years so it was nice to see him get the much-deserved opportunity to step into the spotlight finally here.
The supporting cast in He Never Died were all great as well- particularly Todosey as Jack’s party girl daughter and Cara (Kate Greenhouse), a potential love interest for Jack who can’t help but be intrigued by his character’s matter-of-factness and stalwart sense of chivalry. Both actresses add a nice touch of quirkiness and energy to the film, balancing out Jack’s malaise and antisocial tendencies and infuses the film with some energy as well.
While Krawczyk plays most of the violence off-screen, akin to Jack’s own dissociative feelings towards harming others, what we do get to see is a few gleefully gory moments that prove Rollins’ character isn’t necessarily a guy you ever want to mess with. Some may be turned off by He Never Died’s overarching ambiguity, especially since several intriguing ideas are introduced in the film but are left fully unresolved, but knowing that Krawczyk is hoping to revisit this world in the future, I rather enjoyed not having everything spelled out for me completely, especially since much of the rest of the film is presented in such a straight-forward manner.
For anyone who has been a long-time fan of Rollins as an actor (like myself), He Never Died is precisely kind of film that you would want to see him to star in. The script’s overall tone as well as the dryly comedic moments that Krawczyk infuses into the project compliment Rollins’ delivery and personality so well, allowing him to draw in viewers by mostly what he isn’t saying onscreen and providing him the opportunity to carry this intriguing character and mythology on his able-bodied shoulders. Some may not love that Krawczyk leaves so many questions unanswered but for me, I’m just looking forward to (hopefully) more opportunities to see Jack in action in the future, giving the up-and-coming filmmaker a chance to fill in some of the blanks.
Movie Score: 3.5/5