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.
INTERVIEWS, FILM, BLU-RAY, DVD AND BOOK REVIEWS
DVD Review - Extraction *
Directed by Steven C. Miller. Starring Bruce Willis, Kellan Lutz, Gina Carano, D.B. Sweeney, Dan Bilzarian, Steve Coulter, Heather Johansen, Joshua Mikel. Action/Thriller, Canada, 88 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK digitally on 7th March 2016 and on DVD & Blu-ray on 14th March 2016 by Kaleidoscope Entertainment.
In EXTRACTION, CIA field agent Leonard Turner (Bruce Willis – DIE HARD/THE EXPENDABLES) is kidnapped by a terrorist group whilst on a job ensuring the safe arrival of a piece of computer hacking hardware known as Condor. Leonard’s son Harry (Kellan Lutz – THE EXPENDABLES 3) also works for the CIA as a computer analyst and has repeatedly been turned down for field work, but once he learns of his father’s kidnapping the CIA refuse to let him become involved so he launches his own rescue mission outside of official jurisdiction.
A common criticism of Bruce Willis over the past few years is that he has been phoning in his performances and seemingly taking any direct-to-DVD action movie role for a paycheck. Well at least he’s consistent because EXTRACTION is about as generic an action movie as you could wish for and Willis himself is only in it for a couple of scenes and a few insert shots, leaving most of the action to Kellan Lutz, who can clearly move and tries his best to play the estranged son with something to prove but his limited acting talents and pretty boy looks just aren’t convincing enough to make him the action hero that filmmakers are obviously pushing for.
Utilising a colour pallet and shooting style that was all the rage 10 years ago but looks cheap and cheerful nowadays, EXTRACTION doesn’t waste any time in setting up the very simple plot and getting to where it needs to be, but once the chase is underway the film plods along from one set piece to the next with little regard for logic (it’s all supposed to take place in a 24-hour time period but someone obviously forgot to take travel time from Prague to New Jersey into account) and some of the most uninspired dialogue outside of a college drama class, something that isn’t helped by some atrocious acting from nearly everyone involved.
In fairness, EXTRACTION is marginally more entertaining than the dreadful A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD and Kellan Lutz’s enthusiasm shines through a lot more than his acting abilities do but it’s not really enough to make this movie anything other than the bog-standard time-killing exercise that it is. The fight scenes are very well choreographed and stop short of going down the QUANTUM OF SOLACE route of you having to try and work out who is doing what to whom but when the action stops and the dialogue begins is when the film just drops off and becomes as dull as a Sunday afternoon detective drama on Channel 5. There is a slight redemption in the final showdown when things get as little heated and a plot thread from the beginning of the film is picked up again but instead of ending there the film carries on, clearly with no budget or much of a script, and gives us one last set piece which wasn’t really necessary and hits with no impact whatsoever. Overall, EXTRACTION is for Bruce Willis – and, inevitably, Poundland DVD - completists only.