Heartless

Posted: August 19, 2011 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

Reminded of the film by current events, Final Girl Support Group decided to finally publish our review of Philip Ridley’s disturbing thriller, Heartless. Here’s the official summary:

Jamie Morgan (Jim Stugess, Across the Universe) is a talented young photographer whose disfiguring birthmark makes him feel an outsider in the rough patch of East London he calls home. Developing pictures he s taken in an abandoned lot, Jamie sees a hooded figure peering from behind a window. Investigating, he stumbles into a horrific world of reptilian monsters posing as street gangs, violence inflicted on the most innocent, and a demon (Joseph Mawle) with the power to offer Jamie everything he s ever dreamed of — at a deadly price.

Heartless tells a Faustian story of desire and bargaining but with many additions and side stories. Along the way there are robberies, an attempt to adopt (or be adopted by) a strangely immortal child, random street violence by lizard men, a talking severed head and the frustrated attempts of our hero to become a serial killer. Even with such wild elements, the plot unfolds in a natural, day-by-day way. Comedy or romance scenes are fully fleshed-out so that when the horror returns and the demons demand payment we feel the shift in tone just as Jamie does. He has been able to convince himself that the monsters and demons are part of some bad dream for so long that he’s shocked when they show up again on his doorstep. The reason all these pieces hang together is down to the performances, especially that of Jim Sturgess. Characters are detailed and strong so that we never question their immersion in the strange story.

Clémence Poésy (Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter series) plays Tia, James’ love interest and the most prominent female in the film. Poésy gets to play a very complex character whose motivations, clouded through much of the blossom and change as James passes through his own shifting story. Like Sturgess, her talents are well served.

Positive: The setting of poor East London brings with it its own horror and desolation. Fires burn in vacant lots and walls are plastered with repeated posters of a screaming reptilian face. The hoody-clad gangs menace anyone who passes by. The environment though ugly and oppressive is beautifully shot with some impressive use of color pallette and textures. The presence of Noel Clarke is always appreciated for Doctor Who fans.

Negative: As with many films with a low budget, some dodgy CGI brings down the overall quality. Monsters that were incredibly unsettling while in shadow are disappointing in full view. The changes in mood and direction of the film will not be to the taste of many viewers. These changes also lead to some odd pacing and an unfortunate loss of rising tension. Once the story reaches its wonderfully bizarre peak, the film puts the brakes on for awhile. While an appropriate choice for the story, we enjoyed the escalation of strangeness and were sad to see it dialed back.

Does it pass the Bechdel test?

No. There are three important female characters; Jamie’s mother, Tia, and the young Indian girl but they never share any meaningful interaction.

Anything you want, so long as it includes perpetual fire.

Would we recommend?

It’s hard to say. There is a lot to enjoy in this film but it is far from a simple horror flick. Those looking for a complex and surprising film full of twists, turns and bizarre revelations will have a good time.

Heartless is available on DVD and Netflix Watch Instantly.

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