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 – nobody can cool - **
Directed by Dpyx (Marcy Boyle, Rachel Holzman). Starring Catherine Annette, Nick Principe, Nikki Bohm, David Atlas. Thriller, USA, 92 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on DVD by Left on the 22nd February, 2016..
As titles go, NOBODY CAN COOL is pretty meaningless: it appears nowhere in the dialogue (which is frankly so basic that the DVD extras even include a drinking game where you take a shot every time someone says "shut up" or "f*** you") and it's not as if anyone is that hot or needs to calm down that much to begin with. Staying true to the first lesson of B-Movie Making 101 - don't film what you can't afford - the movie has just six characters, one car, one house and some fake blood and prosthetics, and it wisely doesn't try and overreach its meagre resources.
Made (or at least copyrighted) back in 2012 but only now surfacing in the UK, this is a long way from essential, but it does have a few pleasingly weird moments. NOBODY CAN COOL pits two contrasting couples against each other in a confined space: Susan (Catherine Annette) and David (David Atlas) are on their way to a friend's remote cabin for a romantic break. But when they get to the front door they find Len (Nick Principe, who sometimes seems to be having the most fun) and the heavily pregnant Gigi (Nikki Bohm) already there. They're supposedly hardened criminals, though rather than doing the simple thing and killing the newcomers/witnesses (which they'd presumably have to do anyway) and stealing their car, they invite them in....
Sadly, none of the four seem to be thinking clearly: Len ties our heroine up with easily cuttable rope next to the knife drawer; David and Susan have not one but three golden, nay diamond-encrusted, opportunities to leg it and botch all of them - and while it's always fairly obvious that it's going to end up with the good guys descending to the villains' level in order to survive, it's only when a third master criminal turns up that the bullets finally start to fly. Before that everyone's tying each other up as hostages, as if Len and Gigi are eventually going to let them go, and tables are turned with ridiculous ease.
Shot on the very, very cheap (check the on-screen font for the credits), the end result isn't great by any stretch, but it's never actively boring and occasionally it gets agreeably silly - it includes one of the most badly timed marriage proposals ever, as well as an entirely unnecessary toilet moment; Len models a horrible yellow Hawaiian short throughout and Susan spends the second half of the movie running around in a scarlet onesie. But if nothing else it avoids any suggestion of the sort of gloating sexual violence that sometimes seems inevitable in trashy B-thrillers. That might be down to having women in charge: writer/director/producer Dpyx is actually a duo, Marcy Boyle and Rachel Holzman, neither of whom have their own IMDb pages, and they only have this one to their name so far as a gestalt partnership.