Crank (Neveldine/Taylor, 2006) is a film that I have admittedly avoided for some time. I distinctly remember viewing the trailer and writing the film off as a piece of mindless action schlock. Well, I was right, but…there is something surprisingly intriguing and even significant about the film that seems particularly relevant when taking into account contemporary modes of filmmaking. Specifically, as Hardcore Henry (Naishuller, 2015) continues to make its way through the film festival circuit, the question of medium specificity gains renewed relevance. What is interesting here is how Hardcore Henry and Crank both appear to approach the action genre in a seemingly similar way, yet one fundamentally foregrounds and pushes the possibilities of the medium while the other seems to essentially exist merely as a form of remediation thus stifling the true possibilities and unique aspects of film. Interestingly, the latter approach is the one taken by the more recent film, Hardcore Henry. To be completely transparent, I have not seen Hardcore Henry, but the buzz surrounding the film all relates to the first-person perspective utilized throughout the entirety of the film. Such an approach immediately points to contemporary video games, which fairly ubiquitously utilize this first-person view. Of course, the obvious difference between the first-person approach to games and to film is quite simply that games allow for a level of interactivity that is wholly lacking from Hardcore Henry. In essence, one can argue that Hardcore Henry functions not as a piece of exciting and boundary pushing cinema but rather a lesser video game.
Crank seems to function on a much more complex level. While the obvious purpose of the film (completely in agreement with Hardcore Henry) seems to be the vicarious thrills and excitations allowed to the spectator, the difference lies precisely in how those affective registers are reached. Hardcore Henry attempts to engage the spectator simply by means of identification and spectacle—literally placing the spectator in the film as the protagonist, although disallowing any real sense of agency. Crank, on the other hand, allows for similar affective arousal through action and identification but furthermore utilizes the unique aspects of the cinematic medium itself as a tool for producing an affective response. It is not simply the action of the narrative discourse that triggers a reaction from the spectator but additionally the construction of the film more broadly. From quick jarring edits, temporal remapping/retiming, drastic color shifts, and unstable camera moves (among many other interesting techniques specific to the medium), Crank doesn’t simply invite the user to engage but rather forces a visceral and precognitive response. The spectator is essentially primed via the formalistic approach of the filmmakers thus amplifying the affective power of the narrative. In essence, where Hardcore Henry seems to function as a remediated video game and, one could argue, a gimmicky film as a result, Crank seems quite advanced formalistically speaking. Without stretching this observation much further, it is worth noting one other film that functions in a strikingly similar manner yet targets different affective registers. Gasper Noe’s 2002 film Irreversible relies heavily on unique and medium specific tools to trap the viewer in a continuous state of discomfort and disgust. Despite the shortcomings and problematic aspects of both Crank and Irreversible, these films point to interesting and unique potentialities of the cinematic medium and it’s ability to trigger precognitive responses simply through carefully manipulating formal elements.