Rare are the movies that managed to capture not just the bleak atmosphere of a post-apocalyptic world but also the emotions it evokes. Hardware is one of those movies with strong cyberpunk elements. Working on a pretty small budget, director Richard Stanley (Color Out of Space) pulled off a fucking miracle. Sure, there are a couple of problems with the movie, but nothing that would jeopardize its cult classic status. Its visual style and themes it explores are relevant. The opening scene with the wind slowly blowing away the sand and revealing the head of the robot set the stage. From that moment on, we will be witnessing gritty, effective, and authentic visuals. You will feel like you need to take a bath after it. Mostly because of this grimy coating that everything has. Exactly this gives the movie this realistic vibe.
One of the things that Hardware does so well is that it fleshes out this video game world. The world you might have been in if you played Fallout or Stalker video games. The story remains simple and straightforward all the time, building characters and atmosphere slowly and deliberately. The inhabitants of this gloomy world are well developed and memorable. From the junk dealer to the creepy security guy, they all feel very realistic and above all, human. I have to say that I saw myself as Shades, played by the immortal John Lynch. We just had to opportunity to see him in another great role in the 2020 horror Boys from County Hell.
Speaking of horror, although this is primarily a science fiction thriller, it gets really close to the horror genre. Especially towards the end. Sure, some of them are borrowed from Terminator, Alien, and Predator. But those are not bad movies to borrow from. Dylan McDermott was excellent as the troubled nomad but Stacey Travis stole the show here with her compelling performance. I just loved her monologue here. She’s a woman who refused Harvey Weinstein’s sexual advances and ended up being blackballed from Hollywood. The shitbag was at it right from the start. Moving on, I will leave you to discover the amazing supporting cast with one big surprise that hit me like a freight train when I saw it. The soundtrack was also phenomenal consisting of a mixture of industrial, hard rock, and post-punk.
In a desolate post-apocalyptic world, people do anything they can to survive. Some of them enlist and serve in the military like Moses Baxter and some of them roam the wasteland looking for anything of value. When they find such things, usually broken droids or spare parts, they go to Alvy, a junk dealer. This is what happened when Moses visited his old friend Alvy, a scavenger just brought in the head of the robot. Moses decides to buy the head as a present for his girlfriend Jill. However, this will turn out to be the worst decision of his life.
My biggest problem with Hardware is the final third of the movie. While it excels at creating an intense atmosphere it struggles with action. Believable, fluent, and engaging action to be more precise. Plus, this style-over-substance approach escalates, turning the movie into a nightmarish frenzy of sound and color. At least there was some decent gore to make up for that. The practical effects are a robust and delightfully old school without any hints of CGI. And while the artistic vision can sometimes cross the line into pretentious, the next shot brings it back to the center. Finally, this movie feels like a feverish dream with sudden bouts of fear, ecstasy, and sleaziness. As such it is definitely worth your attention.
It’s hard to recommend movies that are similar to Hardware, but I will try. First of all, you could check out Stanley’s next movie Dust Devil. From there you can move on to The City of Lost Children that had the same atmosphere for me. Cyborg and much better sequel Cyborg 2: Glass Shadow are also good options. Finally, when it comes to the general theme of this movie, take a look at Spacehunter, Cherry 2000 and Nemesis.
Director: Richard Stanley
Writers: Steve MacManus, Kevin O’Neill, Richard Stanley, Michael Fallon
Cast: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins, Mark Northover, Carl McCoy, Lemmy
Fun Facts: William Hootkins improvised a lot of the foulest and most obscene lines of his character.