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.
BLU-RAY REVIEW – RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER ***
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts, Iain Glen, Ruby Rose, Eoin Macken, William Levy. USA / Germany / France / UK / Japan / Canada / South Africa / Australia 2016 106 mins Certificate: 15
Out June 12th 2017 on 4k Ultra HD / Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray 3-D and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Time, once again, to ponder on our own advancing years and wonder what on Earth happened to the last couple of decades: Capcom’s “Resident Evil” video game series is 21 years old, and THE FINAL CHAPTER is the sixth of Paul W.S. Anderson’s internationally funded movie series in fourteen years. It’s easy to forget, with the blur of often interchangeable sequels and imitations, that the original 2002 RESIDENT EVIL movie was quite refreshing. Emerging in something of a horror drought, it joined the same year’s more serious (but equally derivative) 28 DAYS LATER in resurrecting the fallow zombie movie and translated the episodic monster-confrontations and escalating crises of the video game format suspensefully to the screen. In the process, it also showed too much restraint – what’s the point of recreating DAY OF THE DEAD’s “Choke on ‘em!!” moment minus entrails? – and lacked the intensity of the games. Nonetheless, striking MIlla Jovovich was a heroine worth rooting for and the bleak, 70’s-style ending, as she triumphantly emerges into a virus-ravaged world, provided a wonderfully resonant, oft-imitated final pull-back visual.
Although he didn’t direct another RE movie until 2010’s AFTERLIFE – which introduced flashy 3-D to the mix – Anderson has been as loyal to the franchise (as writer / producer) as his wife, though Russell Mulcahy’s playful, lively third outing is probably the most satisfying of the inevitably mixed bag of sequels. Anderson is back to helm THE FINAL CHAPTER, which has a stirring five minute “Previously On RESIDENT EVIL” prologue in which the ever-imperilled Alice (Jovovich) seems to reinforce the climactic subtitle by advising “This is my story – the end of my story” before a brisk recap of the T-Virus, the creation of the Red Queen, the Racoon City outbreak and the ensuing apocalyptic mayhem. What follows is one of those familiar “final” sequels that sets out to provide some sense of closure by returning to the franchise’s roots. We first meet Alice beset by winged beasties and zombies in the desert at a period in an increasingly credible-looking Planet Earth where there are only a few thousand humans remaining. The Red Queen gives Alice a ticking-clock mission akin to that of the original: she has to venture into the depths of the ruined Racoon City to obtain the antivirus.
As before, the well preserved Jovovich gives her all, even receiving a rare, emotional grace note in the final reel; she doesn’t really need the oddly unappealing, expressionless Ali Larter as a tepid sidekick with whom to share a frenetically paced, breathless series of set pieces duplicating the game-level structure. The fight scenes are cut within an inch of their epilepsy-inducing lives, characterised by shots that seem lengthy if they last longer than a single second. Swooping aerial shots of the decimated Racoon City lend the movie scale beyond its budget, the gore is CG enhanced and Anderson revels in post-LORD OF THE RINGS pull back shots of the countless zombie hordes.
For fans, it should prove to be one of the more satisfying sequels, with exuberant, spectacular action sequences and cliffhanging Alice-escapes, alongside an impressive “Bloodshot” creature, an effectively tense zombie dog confrontation and some enthusiastic turbine slice-and-dice. It’s eager to please and never boring, though its relentless editing style and almost entire lack of humour and humanity won’t bring any converts … which, this late in the game, is redundant anyway. By a country mile, man of the match is Iain Glen as a marvellously sneering villain, afforded the most enjoyable lines (“I give to you…the T-Virus!”) as he engineers a Noah’s ark for the surviving rich and relishes hammy Biblical speeches (“We end the world…but on our terms – an orchestrated apocalypse”)
As for the subtitle, this movie may or may not represent Jovovich’s last trip to the RE well, but it’s no more “final” than the notably duplicitous FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER or SAW: THE FINAL CHAPTER. The closing scene leaves scope for further adventures, and the vast fortune this sixth entry made worldwide will secure the series’ survival in one way or another for some time to come.