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.
The Daily Sport's Kiran Rai talks FrightFest and Jackals
This was my first visit to the Horror Channel FrightFest and I found it something out of this world. Not just as a journalist but also a person who loves horror films. The crowds were large and the festival had numerous guests in attendance. Held every August Bank Holiday weekend, FrightFest has become the leading genre event in the UK and one of the most important in the Europe. I interviewed many of the directors and producers at the event and met Danny Morgan the winner of the Genre Rising Star Award.
I only had time to see one film, the home invasion thriller JACKALS. If you have seen any home invasion film, then you’ve already seen this film. Whilst I’m hesitant to say that it was terrible, it felt like a film completely devoid of any original ideas. This is lazy film making at its most lifeless. Director Kevin Greutert has proven himself to be competent and talented with his work on Saw 3D and Jessabelle, but this isn’t his finest moment.
Ben Sullivan plays Justin, a young man who was kidnapped and literally brainwashed by a murderous cult into believing he’s one of them. His family reclaim him, keeping him restrained while they attempt to restore him to his senses, and from there it’s Home Invasion 101. You know the setup: A punch of people trapped in a secluded house. No working phone lines. A violent group of antagonists attempting to force their way in. Everything plays out as you would expect it to. That really is the long and short of it.
How did the cult brainwash Justin? Never explained. What are the cult’s core beliefs and values? Never explained. Why do they want Justin back so badly? Never explained. The script for Jackals was one of the laziest I’ve seen put to screen in a while.
Stephen Dorff plays a hardened military veteran recruited to protect the family. Arguably the most interesting character in the film because of his no-nonsense attitude and hardened demeanour, the writers did the “smart” thing and had him killed off during the first act. If they’d actually done the smart thing and kept him alive until the end, I’m pretty sure I would have been at least somewhat more engaged.
Despite its many flaws, I will say that I wasn’t bored whilst watching JACKALS. Although it is severely lacking in some areas, we were still presented with a passable, albeit largely forgettable cultist horror movie. If there’s nothing else available, then JACKALS will prove to be a tolerable enough way to spend 85 minutes. Just don’t expect to remember too much of the film afterwards.
As for FrightFest, it was for me a highly ejoyable event, which I will attend again.