Boiled down to a spoiler-free summary, writer-director Jason Krawczyk‘s HE NEVER DIED (2015) sounds like a boring film:
Jack (Henry Rollins) is a middle-aged, white, male, social outcast who lives alone in an apartment in Toronto. His only human contact is Cara (Kate Greenhouse), a waitress (her self-description) at a local diner where he eats once a day. Other than playing bingo at the local Catholic church, Jack sleeps a lot.
Sounds dull, doesn’t it? There’s a good reason for Jack’s avoidant routine. Don’t forget the title, which suggests that some male character in the film never died. This wording should raise expectations for a horror/supernatural theme.
Furthermore, any film that stars Rollins, the former front man for the epic hardcore punk band Black Flag (from 1981 to 1986), cannot (by definition) be boring. Add the tagline “Bullets. Blood. Bingo.” and it’s clear that there’s a lot more going on in this movie than a phobia for spoilers allows a reviewer to disclose (if it’s spoilers you want, just watch the red-band trailer below).
In fact, HE NEVER DIED is a category-defying tour de force that combines elements of the horror, noir crime, comedy, and drama genres into one wild ride. Jack’s story does start off slow, but only after a creepy, impressionistic visual and audio intro that suggests the powerful presence of the supernatural. It picks up steam as events add various sinister and darkly comic shades to Jack’s humdrum existence. By the final reveal at the end, Jack has undergone a complete transformation in the audience’s eyes.
This change begins when Jack makes a clandestine rendezvous with Jeremy (Booboo Stewart), a medical intern, who sells him something out of the trunk of his car. This something, wrapped in white butcher’s paper, goes in the meat compartment of Jack’s refrigerator after he returns home.
Despite Jack’s carefully-managed seclusion, the world starts to intrude on him. Two mobsters, Steve (David Richmond-Peck) and Short (James Cade), show up at his door looking for Jeremy. When they try to get physical with Jack, it becomes clear that he is not an ordinary human being. His brutal reaction removes them from his environment, but also ensures that the local mob will not leave him alone.
Then a young woman, Andrea (Jordan Todosey), shows up to visit Jack, whose mere appearance scares her away at first. He does not recognize her, but when she returns his wall of isolation will continue to crumble. In fact, Andrea’s identity and presence will prove to be key to the comic, dramatic, and horror aspects of the rest of the film.
Every so often, a sinister figure with a goatee (the late, great Don Francks) briefly appears to dog Jack with his presence. Others might or might not be able to see Goatee Man. He vanishes only to resurface later at apparently random moments. Who is he and what does he want? The audience will continue to debate this question after the film has ended.
Shot with a noir feel in Toronto, HE NEVER DIED capitalizes on Rollins’ outstanding performance while enhancing it with an inventive use of sound montage and an eclectic musical score. Rollins’ physical acting and dialogue delivery are spot-on for the part he plays.
Although the story requires Rollins to carry the film to a large extent, his fellow cast members (especially Greenhouse, Stewart, Todosey, and Francks) provide acting touches without which the film would suffer. Steven Ogg brings slimy sophistication to the part of Alex, a local crime boss who figures prominently in the finale.
An indie film project with Canadian roots, HE NEVER DIED premiered at the 2015 South By Southwest film festival. The film spent the rest of the year on the festival circuit. Vertical Entertainment released it on DVD and many VOD platforms in December 2015. In 2016, the film earned nominations for two 2016 Fangoria Chainsaw Awards.
An authentic sleeper genre film, HE NEVER DIED has amassed a significant cult following — for good reasons — since its release. Check it out on Facebook to find out the current options for watching it. And be on the lookout for a miniseries continuation of the film (starring Rollins).
Frisco Kid’s Rating (on IMDb): 8 out of 10 stars.