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 - NINA FOREVER - ****
Directors: Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine, Starring: Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Abigail Hardingham, Cian Barry. Horror/Drama. UK, 2015, 98mins, Cert 18.
Released in the UK on EST on 15th February and DVD & Blu-ray on 22nd February 2015 by Studiocanal.
There were three in the bed and the dead one said: “roll over, roll over...”
Two’s company, three’s a crowd funded (in part) British debut feature which tackles the grieving process with copious amounts of blood-soaked bed linen.
Having unsuccessfully attempted suicide following the tragic car crash death of his girlfriend Nina, mathematician Rob (Cian Barry) is slumming it as a shelf-stacker in a supermarket during the week, and spending his weekends seeking emotional solace through visiting his ex’s grieving parents. Trainee paramedic and fellow work colleague Holly (Abigail Hardingham) is drawn to Rob and they soon hit it off. Unfortunately, no sooner do they start to make the beast with two backs on Rob’s bed, than his deceased ex Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) rises bloodied and broken through the sheets presenting Rob with an unexpected morbid ménage à trois.
Although the central conceit conjures up shades of HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, whilst Julia’s celebratory mattress resurrection was willingly instigated by Dr. Channard, here it is an unwelcome manifestation of Rob’s inability to cope with the loss of Nina and the guilt of attempting to move on. It’s a scenario previously well-used in rom-coms, but directors Ben and Chris Blaine eschew cheap laughs and instead make their bed bloodied and bruised, haunting and memorable.
The performances are right on the money; none more so than Abigail Hardingham, outstanding as Holly, the trainee paramedic with an extreme character arc. From being dumped for supposedly being ‘vanilla’, to literally embracing the dilemma of competing with the bloody ghost of a dead-ex sharing her boyfriend’s bed in a determinedly uninhibited way, Hardingham is the central core around which the dead Nina and Rob messily intertwine. And a special mention is warranted for Nina’s grieving parents, played by David Troughton and Elizabeth Elvin, whose exhausting effort to suppress their pain finally erupts in an emotional draining scene.
Despite the generous helpings of blood and gore on display (Nina’s post-crash injuries are vividly rendered), this bittersweet fable is not a calculated exploitationer, and the decidedly non-coy sex scenes are refreshingly honest and serve to enhance character rather than merely titillate.
A surprisingly assured first-feature then for the Blaine boys. Having made their bed with NINA FOREVER it will be fascinating to see where they will lie next.
Extras: Promo segment, deleted scenes, making of.