In an age over-saturated with slick American teen drama series with a supernatural theme – many still characterised by the enduring influence of BUFFY and all of them hoping to be as long running as SUPERNATURAL – HEARTLESS is a distinctively Danish take on the form. Played commendably straight and without the smart-arse, self-aware humour that tends to dominate its U.S. equivalents, it’s an absorbing, if sometimes ponderous, eight-episode serial that has scope for further seasons.

In the early going of episode one, we witness photogenic teen twins Sofie (Julie Zangenberg) and Sebastian (Sebastian Jessen) luring and feeding in an almost vampiric fashion from an unfortunate young man in a nightclub who, as a result of their necessary act, promptly bursts into flames. The siblings have to feed on the life force of other people in order to survive and fatal consequences result if their feeding reaches a certain level. Sebastian, the more sensitive of the duo, wrestles with his own conscience of their activities, and together the twins set out to find out who and what they really are. They revisit the orphanage from which they originally ran away as infants, and discover that their mother attended an ultra-strict, rural boarding school. Joining as second year students, they learn about the dark history of the school itself – with the sadistic modern hierarchy carrying on old traditions of persecution and torture - and its inextricable links to their own bloodline.

Shot in muted tones and colours with the central school permanently enshrouded by mist, HEARTLESS is an atmospheric series built around a premise that inevitably echoes significant earlier American genre works. Sebastian (who tortuously reins in his need to feed wherever possible) gets the come-on from various girls at the school but his perfectly normal lustiness blurs with the unavoidable needs of his monstrous self when aroused, a la CAT PEOPLE. (The notion of a tortured, handsome male lead unable to fulfil romantic relationships due to the threat he poses, is of course, a throwback to BUFFY and ANGEL). The concept of family members with a desperate compulsion to feed on humans and a peculiarly incestuous relationship with each other has echoes of Stephen King’s far sillier SLEEPWALKERS. There are also CARRIE-inspired sub-plots involving the telekinetic powers of key secondary characters.

It could very easily be reincarnated as a generic, slick U.S. series, but the execution here is very Scandinavian. The tone is sombre and understated, with an underlying erotic charge and a real effort to minimise FX and melodrama in favour of a realistic approach to the potentially outlandish material. The backstory, including flashbacks to 17th century witch-hunts linked to the school principal’s three daughters, is effectively integrated into the contemporary narrative, and the performances are strong all round: the two leads are striking. For those that crave such things, there are occasional intrusions of predictably bad CGI fire and some fleeting, gratuitous shower-room nudity, but HEARTLESS has a beguiling style of its own, even when retreading age-old plot threads like the old “Only love can break the curse…” chestnut that we have seen in sundry earlier genre projects.

Steven West

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INTERVIEWS, FILM, BLU-RAY, DVD AND BOOK REVIEWS

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book Review - CALAMITY by Brandon Sanderson ****
 

Out Now. Published by Gollancz. Hardback £16.99/eBook £8.99.

CALAMITY is the third book in the Reckoners series, a Young Adult fantasy collection of stories written by American fantasy and Science fiction writer Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson has written several books but is best known for the Mistborn series and his contributions in finishing Robert Jordan's The Wheel Of Time fantasy books.

The series is set in a world ruled by Epics. Epics are a small group of humans with super powers deriving from an object, dubbed Calamity, which appeared in the sky emitting a form of radiation. Near invincible, they have different strengths and weaknesses and have taken to crime replacing government and enslaving the population.

David Charleston was orphaned when Epic Steelheart murdered his father. The sole survivor of the incident he witnessed Steelheart's weakness and now grown he has joined the Reckoners, a resistance group led by "Prof" Jonathan Phaedrus an Epic, who doesn't use his powers, with the aim of avenging his father.

In the previous books STEELHEART and FIREFIGHT, David and the group learned that the Epic's Achilles heel was their weaknesses and by using these weaknesses against them their invincibility can be challenged.

As a result of events in the second book FIREFIGHT, the Prof has turned bad and is rampaging through the country and David now leeds the Reckoners. To secure equipment to continue the fight they break into a foundry owned by Epic Nighthawk. David is shot in the process but confronts the owner asking him for help to save the Prof, an old associate of Nighthawk. Not keen to get involved, Nighthawk provides them with motivators – a gadget that allows others to use the Epics powers – and informs them that the Prof is in Atlanta, now called Ildithia a moving city built of salt and located in Kansas.

This final book of the trilogy is about providing answers, but it also allows some time to focus on the budding relationship between David and Megan, plus allowing time to the other Reckoner team members who survived FIREFIGHT intact. Still, the story moves along at a fair crack and David grows and develops with each chapter, bad metaphors aside. CALAMITY showcases Sanderson strengths as he builds this alternative world, a mix of the familiar and downright out of this world. With a strong emotional heart, one by one answers are provided to the mysteries posed in the previous two books. It is open to question if it's a deliberate ploy to leave so many unanswered questions because billed as the conclusion of the series, the impression is given that Sanderson might return to this world in the future.

Ian Rattray.

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