Henry Rollins is many things. He is honest. He is direct. He is outspoken. He is extremely well travelled and widely read, knowledgeable on a diverse array of subjects. By his own admission he is extremely driven and always open to new experiences, which is why he will always agree to any new project offered to him provided it interests him sufficiently and it does not conflict with a previous commitment.
For this reason, and with no disrespect to Mr Rollins who would most likely agree with the assessment of his film career, he has historically been involved, usually in a supporting capacity, with works which are not always of the highest quality. For this reason, it is doubly surprising and pleasing that in his lead role in He Never Died he gives a superior performances but that it is also one of the best projects in which he has featured.
Written and directed by Jason Krawczyk, Rollins is Jack, a recluse who shuns anything more than superficial contact with others, who suffers from terrible nightmares, who has deep scars on his back, who pays his landlady the rent in cash which he keeps in a trunk suspiciously full of money and antique weapons, whose only pleasures are the diner where he eats every day and the local community bingo game at the church hall.
Inevitably, complications impinge upon his chosen spartan lifestyle. His specialist dietary requirements are supplied by Jeremy (Twilight‘s Booboo Stewart) whose internship at the hospital is almost over and who also owes money to local hoodlums whose determination to have their investment returned leaves Jack obligated to intervene to save him. When they try to mess up Jeremy, Jack messes them up, real bad.
Then comes the call from his long gone ex-girlfriend to tell him their daughter has left home and is in the city; can Jack find her and make sure she is safe? If he had any other option, he would have said no, but he doesn’t. Tracking down Andrea (Gemini award winner Jordan Todosey), he takes her to the Times Square diner where she makes increasingly awkward small talk to which he responds monosyllabically.
Uncomfortable with even the most basic questioning, Jack is equally resistant to the gentle flirting of his regular waitress Cara (Kate Greenhouse). When as a result of his protecting Jeremy a professional hit man is sent to eliminate Jack, it goes worse for the hitman, but Jack does not take it personally until Andrea is kidnapped in retaliation.
Never a versatile actor, Rollins is very good in this role which plays to his strengths, intelligent, reserved, resilient, determined, and absolutely someone not to be crossed: as suggested by the title, Jack cannot die, his immortality sustained by the consumption of human flesh and blood, and while through the years he has learned tolerance and patience, he is not to be taken lightly.
When he finally does lose control – or at least his temper – it is with a neighbour who speaks harshly to their landlady; he is honourable, if not exactly chivalrous, but the efficiency with which he deals with the men sent after him speaks not only of skill and experience but of his intense desire to be rid of the complication they represent. More than anything, he just wants to go back to his quiet life and his bingo.
Similarly, Greenhouse is excellent in an unusual role, horrified by the situation in which she finds herself but capable of rational thought and action, even if that thought tells her to be elsewhere; contrary to historic cinematic bias, horror is so much better when the leading lady isn’t a screamer.
While the violence can be extreme, the camera never turning away, it is neither forced nor gratuitous, the film never exploitative as are so many of its ilk, and while it concludes in a satisfying enough manner, all the immediate plot threads tied up, should Krawczyk and Rollins find the opportunity to explore the character of Jack further, as is their stated desire, he is sufficiently interesting and engaging to merit that attention.