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
GAME REVIEW – FALLOUT 4 ***
Developed by Bethesda Softworks. Action, PEGI 18
Released in UK on PS4/Xbox One by Bethesda on 10th November 2015, RRP £49.99.
In 1997, a relatively unknown developer named Interplay released a top down adventure game set in a post apocalyptic America that dropped the player in the scorched remains of Washington. The goal: battle with hordes of raiders, ferocious Super Mutants and a maneuver a deadly environment. That game was Fallout and it took the gaming world by storm, and has since gone on to become possibly the biggest role playing franchise the gaming sphere has ever known.
Fast-forward to 2015 and the release of Fallout 4, the long awaited sequel to acclaimed Fallout 3 on last gen consoles and PC. This third iteration of the series alienated many of the original fans of the franchise by moving away from the RPG side of the series by embracing a more action-oriented experience. Fallout 4 follows in its predecessor's footsteps, scrapping many elements from the third game in favor of focusing even more on those blistering action beats. Whether or not this is a good thing depends entirely on player preference.
Plot wise this standard revenge stuff: your spouse is murdered, your son is kidnapped and your goal is to hunt down the culprits across some 100 plus hours of playing time. While this may seem somewhat similar to Fallout 3's plot in terms of character motivation, things begin to deviate once these initial narrative beats have been laid down as the writers hurl numerous twists and turns at you that, by the end anyway, really have little to no impact on the overall experience. In fact, the whole thing culminates in a final sequence that feels so rushed you'd be forgiven for thinking you actually skipped through a handful of missions earlier in the game.
Where the narrative finds its strength is in the world building. Fallout has always had a fantastic universe, and this one is no different. The Commonwealth feels grand in scale, and the new settlement mechanic adds a whole new level of immersion and engagement than most sandbox games simply can't seem to reach.
While the sudden lack of role playing elements may appear at first glance like a damning mistake, Bethesda has more than made up for it by introducing some of the best combat mechanics we've ever seen in title of the same ilk. The gunplay feels natural and smooth, but still heavy enough to have impact, while melee combat brings with it an intensity we haven't seen since in the Fallout series before.
Overall, whether or not you enjoy this one depends entirely on what side of the debate you fall onto: the role-playing advocate, or gun crazy gamer. If you're looking for a character driven experience reminiscent of the original game, then Fallout 4 really isn’t the game for you. If you're content with a high-octane bullet fest in a wonderfully designed open world, then you'll feel right at home in Fallout 4’s war torn Commonwealth.