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
book REVIEW – Miss Peregrine’s Home For Particular Children – ****
Written by Ransom Riggs.
Published by Audible and narrated by Jesse Bernstein. Fantasy, Unabridged - 9hrs 41 mins. £18.95 or 1 subscription credit.
The debut novel from Ransom Riggs was first published in June 2011, and after receiving the Tim Burton big screen treatment, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Particular Children is heading for cinemas around the world this month.
Jacob grew up listening to amazing stories about an island populated by flesh-eating monsters, a hawk that smokes a pipe and children with peculiar talents as told by his grandfather, Abe. As he grew older he began to take them with a pinch of salt and even after Abe showed him his collection of old photographs from the island, Jacob remained unconvinced.
As the years passed Abe began to lose some of his mental faculties and reverted into a second childhood where the monsters in his stories have become very real to him. One evening Jacob received a phone call from his grandfather telling him that they are after him. Along with his friend Ricky, he drove over to his grandfather's home to find it ransacked and Abe missing. After a frantic search, Jacob found Abe in the woods behind his house with deep chest wounds. Before he died, he gave Jacob a message. Go to the island and find the bird in the loop on Sept. 3, 1940, on the other side of the old man's grave. Just as he died, Jacob caught a brief sight of the hideous face of the monsters from his grandfather's stories, but Jacob is the only person who saw it.With no idea what his grandfather's words meant, Jacob began to have nightmares about his death that the police have put down to a pack of wild dogs.
At his annual "surprise" birthday party, his aunt gave him a present of a book - The Selected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson - that belonged to his grandfather. When he opened it, he found a letter postmarked Cairnholm Island and signed Alma LeFay Peregrine, the woman who featured in many of his grandfather's stories. So were the stories true after all?
Populated by eccentric but well-developed characters, it's mainly Welsh setting, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Particular Children is an absorbing listen and in this reviewers case helped a 10-hour transatlantic flight with the inflight entertainment not working as it should followed by a seven-hour drive whizz by.
Production values and the narration by Jesse Bernstein as per normal for any Audible release top notch, and Ransom Rigg’s first-person detailed narration suits the audio book format well. Although the book is aimed at young adults, it works well for all age groups.