Loosely based on stories of real-life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole, Henry offers a chilling look into the bleak, dark everyday lives of murderers. There aren't any fancy special effects, no exciting soundtracks. Instead, we're left with only stark, static shots from mounted cameras. This makes the film feel real, as though we're watching the security footage from actual crimes. Whenever I watch the film, I always crane my neck and attempt to look around the corner to get a better glance of what's happening. As an audience, we're denied that -- we can only see the restrained brutality set before us, simultaneously forcing us to confront the barbaric murders and leaving us wanting to look away, to turn the corner and find some reason behind it. The 16mm film stock also has a rich grain, showcasing the filth, the grime of the men's crimes and their lives.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the film is how much the actors embody their roles. Their lack of joy, lack of motivation makes the incredibly brutal crimes inexplicable, purely senseless. Director John McNaughton manages to capture the heinousness of the men's crimes without delving into the true extent of their crimes -- Lucas claimed to have killed between 300 and 600 in his lifetime, with Toole claiming a part in over 100 of those crimes. Toole was also the prime suspect in the murder of 6 year old Adam Walsh, the murder that inspired the launch of America's Most Wanted. These aren't slick, smart men who kill -- they're unlikeable and completely unsympathetic. In this regard, actors Michael Rooker (Henry) and Tom Towles (Otis) are perfect in their roles; if this film were easy to watch, they wouldn't have done their jobs as actors.
Truly, this is a brutal, difficult film -- one that leaves me feeling dirty after watching it. But I think the cold, dark realism is a critical contrast to create in the sea of fun and exciting horror movies. This still may be a (mostly) fictional story, but it doesn't have to be cliché or enjoyable to be effective. It's a movie that I'll never be able to shake, one that I always hate watching but can't help to watch again -- it just feels too important to not return to it every year or two.