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.
DVD REVIEW – FINAL RECALL **
Directed by Mauro Borrelli. Starring Wesley Snipes, Jedidiah Goodacre, RJ Mitte, Laura Bilgeri, Hannah Rose May. Canada 2017 90 mins Certificate: 15
Released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Signature Entertainment on August 21st 2017
As with so many capable, charismatic performers stuck in career purgatory, it’s easy to forget how much movie-star potential Wesley Snipes displayed in his breakthrough movies for Spike Lee and his vibrant, scene-stealing roles in subsequent mainstream fare like WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP and DEMOLITION MAN. Sadly, an excess of disappointing star vehicles in the creative wasteland of 1990’s Hollywood and severe misjudgements with the third and final BLADE movie led to a descent into much-document personal trauma and straight-to-DVD movie anonymity. This film, released as the equally dull-sounding THE RECALL in the U.S., isn’t worthy of his talents though is at least a tad more engaging than his role in the increasingly embarrassing EXPENDABLES franchise.
FINAL RECALL is a name clearly contrived from various marketing meetings looking at the name-recognition of past successes with the words “Final” and “Recall” in their titles. Similarly, the movie’s script is a mesh of ideas and scenes from other movies, from the gruesome extra-terrestrial surgical torture of FIRE IN THE SKY to the post-PREDATOR strain of creature features, with cabin-in-the-woods horror, a sentimental backstory and shoot-outs shoe-horned in for (in theory) maximum audience appeal.
A small group of shallow college kids (interchangeable couple and would-be couple) venture to a rural retreat in the California wilderness for the usual booze / sex / dying horribly shenanigans. They speak in the parlance of a 12 year old who has been held back two years in school and whose neck muscles have ceased to function due to staring relentlessly down at a phone screen for 24 hours a day (“Ohmigod!”). Their trip involves an entirely expected stop-off at a gas station, where they are weirded out (“This here is Bambi. Dead Bambi”) and accosted by a foreboding hunter (Snipes) who seems to spend his life glowering in the woods. As TV broadcasts chatter about spiralling cloud formations spotted around the world and argue whether it’s the results of Global Warming or alien visitation, the truth becomes very clear and rudely interrupts our heroes’ hot-tub frolics.
It's an inoffensive, watchable compendium of clichés and borrowed plot licks, with chase scenes through over-lit woodland, girls-in-nighties-in-peril, CG jellyfish-like alien creatures and low-budget INDEPENDENCE DAY-inspired space craft hovering over worldwide locations. Anyone using the movie as an excuse for a drinking game will presumably be satisfyingly inebriated by the point at which someone inevitably walks into a bear trap; and in case we weren’t sure, another character yells “It’s a bear trap!”
The only real saving grace is Snipes himself, in cheerful slumming mode, providing lively exposition in the second half, equipped with eccentric mannerisms and afforded a bunch of awkward yet endearing 80’s style one-liners sprinkled with a helping of “motherfuckers”.