Director – Philip Ridley
Cast – Jim Sturgess, Clémence Poésy, Noel Clarke, Luke Treadaway, Justin Salinger, Fraser Ayres, Ruth Sheen
Release Year – 2010
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I heard mostly positive remarks about Heartless ever since its festival releases in 2009 and its official release in 2010, but I took my time getting to this one because I just did not trust what I read. Many unsettling remarks were made that lead me to assume I would be going into a love/hate film, and after finally viewing this film I can see why those remarks were made. Heartless is much more than the usual horror experience as it gives us a heavy drama element and keeps you out of the loop over what is really going on for almost the entire film, but in the end this was an experience that I found some joy in whose faults kept it from being a truly positive experience.
We follow Jamie Morgan(Jim Sturgess), a young adult plagued with a large heart-like scar on his face. For his entire life Jamie has seen his scar as a social hindrance, especially with the opposite sex, and one day after encountering a gang of demons living in his neighborhood he is presented the opportunity to repair his ailment, but with a heavy cost that he never sees coming.
I expected a unique experience from Reflecting Skin director Philip Ridley’s first film in 15 years, and he gave me just that coupled with a few elements that I did not expect to come across. From the get-go we are thrown into the awry world that Jamie lives in, developing his photography work and cherishing the only person his this world who truly cares for him, his Christian mother. He first notices the demons in his neighborhood while walking home late one night, and after they commit a heinous act that hits close to home he seeks to exact vengeance on them in any way possible. At this point in the film I was thinking “awesome, we have a revenge element going on”, but Jamie’s vengeance only lasted a short while until the film’s next development kicked in, involving a devil-like figure with whom he makes a deal with to remove the hindering scar from his face. I did not see anything wrong with him making a pact with the devil, but I really wish we would have been given more of the revenge theme, especially given how traumatic the original act against Jamie was. It is at this point that the film somewhat turns into a love story when Jamie meets a girl who in turn falls for him and his new appearance, but of course his happiness is short-lived when the devil comes calling for payment. Jamie is forced to exercise heinous acts upon innocent people to repay his debt, and when he refuses to continue the devil’s bidding we are given a sweet revelation that I never saw coming but one that sure made a lot of sense out of the film. I did find a few faults in this piece, with the most prominent of them being the pacing which left me a bit bored at times, but that could also come from the fact that this is more than just a horror flick and partly a drama as well. At times the confusion played a hinderance on this experience, and while the climax made sense of it all in fairly beautiful fashion it did come with its own cliches that I cannot mention without delivering some heavy spoilers.
Philip Ridley did well with this piece, giving us great cinematography and awesome sets that made for great gloomy atmosphere to compliment the film’s sad and somber tone, and his musical score improved the atmosphere even more. We get mostly-positive performances from those involved, especially from Jim Sturgess(Across the Universe, 21) as Jamie. Jim expertly portrayed the kind-hearted and socially-awkward lad as if he really had been plagued with a hindering scar on his face for his entire life and he also managed to get nasty when the film called for it. Ridley’s execution of the horror was good, giving us some gut-wrenching scenes at times, although the overall horror in the film is not overly scary. The demon scenes are definitely the scariest the film has to offer, and they are few and few between and leave the viewer going through long bouts without anything horrific going on. That may play more on the storyline than Ridley’s direction though, but in the end his pacing made for a slightly boring film at times and one that could have been much better had it found its identity early on in the experience.
Overall, Heartless is a film that I really want to say that I like, and while I did find this to be a beautiful piece in its own right this is not a horror film that I can outrightly recommend. The story is one that will take you through several twists and turns until the climax makes sense of it all (in astronomical fashion), but the constant horror vs. drama going on in this piece, as well as the side-effects (poor pacing) of such a mix of ideas held it back from being the great film that it could have been. You won’t waste your time with this one unless you are looking for a non-stop horror trip, but Heartless is a flick that lives up to its name at times.