Understated and deadpan, former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins trades dialogue for presence in Jason Krawczyk’s dark comedy He Never Died. Even after 20 years as a spoken word poet, comedian, radio host and IFC film critic, he has his work cut out for him in his first ever leading role.
Rollins stars as Jack: a listless, flesh-eating, bingo-playing immortal going cold turkey on human meat. His routine life is turned around with the appearance and subsequent kidnapping of a daughter-he-never-knew (Jordan Todosey) and his past Mafia tiescoming back to haunt him.
Borrowing elements of noir, satire and slow-burn cinema, the story itself is somewhat disjointed, but He Never Died is charming in an offbeat kind of way. If the film took itself more seriously, it wouldn't work. Each character that the near-lifeless Jack interacts with elicits a chuckle, in particular the antagonistic henchmen (David Richmond-Peck and James Cade) hired by Alex (Steven Ogg in a scene stealing role), the son of a Mafioso and the organization’s new leader.
What makes the movie compelling is the subtlety of Jack’s character: a man, haunted by his past (cue low-budget sound effects and screaming), whose life is filled with ennui. Below the film’s surface, the character tackles sobriety and what it feels like to battle addiction. Just trade in drugs for the craving of blood, guts and gore.
As the story progresses, so too does Jack’s demeanour as little by little his craving for human flesh boils to the surface. Initially taciturn and zombie-like, his personality gradually becomes manic, vulnerable, and angry—a characterization well suited for the Black Flag alumnus.
And, while Rollins’ hardcore, straight edge motif might deter some over the believability of his performance, he sells it well.
He Never Died is currently streaming on Netflix Canada.