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

BlackOps3Image
 

GAme Review - CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS 3 ***
 

Developed by Treyarch. Action, PEGI 18

Released in UK on PS4/Xbox One by Activision on 6th November 2015, RRP £49.99.

Another year, another Call of Duty release. The series, as we’ve come to love (or hate, depending on your standpoint) has become an annual fixture of the game release calendar that still manages to pull in huge sales numbers, trumping even the most successful box office behemoths.

Every November us shooter fans our handed our yearly fix of casual genocide and hi tech warfare, and every year we find ourselves asking the same question as we peel off the cellophane wrapper: will this one be any different? Well, this time we actually got a game that’s actually incredibly interesting, thought provoking and, dare we say it, fun? Black Ops 3 is most certainly a step in the right direction for the series, albeit with a few crucial shortcomings.

First off, lets talk about the plot. While the Call of Duty isn’t known for its stellar storytelling, it appears that the developers put a lot of effort into writing a deep, thought provoking narrative centering around the moral ambiguity of black operations and human augmentation; too bad then that it falls flat on more than one occasion.

Though the concept is interesting, and the intent is certainly appreciated, the writing and voice acting is wobbly at best. More importantly, it’s difficult to take the story seriously when one minute your character ponders the consequences of murder, and the next he’s gunning down half the population of Shanghai.

Having said that, the gunplay is quite entertaining, as Black Ops 3 delivers the usual cover based slog fest but with a more fast-paced, almost arcade-like feel to it. This tweaking is absolutely a step in the right direction, lending itself excellently to the multiplayer, which is, as always, where the developers have focused all of their time. Weapons are balanced, and those pesky micro transactions found lurking in Black Ops 2 have been eschewed (for the most part anyway.

And yet in spite of all this the game still doesn't do a whole lot to truly differentiate itself from those that have come before it. While the faster pace certainly bolsters appeal, the core of the experience remains very much the same. Black Ops 3 should be commended for it noble intentions and some pretty slick ideas felled only by the series' refusal to really make a wholehearted attempt at breaking from the norm. Here’s hoping the developers will find the courage to do exactly that with Black Ops 4.

Paul Fahey

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