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.
DVD Review – RESURRECTION OF EVIL **
Directed by Andrew C. Erin. Starring Julie Benz, Belle Shouse, Josh Stamberg, Douglas Tait, Matt Lasky, Fionnula Flanagan, Danielle Harris. Horror/Thriller, USA, 81 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on DVD by Thunderbird Releasing on 9th October 2017.
Otherwise known as HAVENHURST in the US, the awfully titled RESURRECTION OF EVIL is a low-budget horror/thriller that stars Julie Benz (RAMBO) as Jackie, a recovering alcoholic released from rehab to start a new life after the tragic death of her daughter in a car accident caused by Jackie’s drinking. Jackie is housed in a huge apartment building owned by the elderly Eleanor Mudgett (Fionnula Flanagan – THE OTHERS), who tells Jackie that the only requirement for her to live there as long as she likes is to not return to her old ways, which seems fine to Jackie but she has a reason to be suspicious of Eleanor as her friend Danielle (Danielle Harris – HATCHET 2/HALLOWEEN) used to live in the same apartment but disappeared suddenly and has not been heard from since.
Jackie soon discovers that Eleanor’s contracts may not be entirely legal as some of the other tenants, who are also recovering addicts of various substances and lead damaged lives in some way, also tend to disappear fairly quickly after they have a slight relapse into old behaviours so, in a quest to find out what happened to her friend, she opens a bottle of whiskey and prepares to face the demons that come not only from her own psyche but also from within the walls of the old building.
The first thing that grabs you about RESURRECTION OF EVIL is how much director/co-writer Andrew C. Erin wants to evoke the mood and creeping dread from the likes of ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE SHINING, two other horror movies set in sprawling buildings with lots of hidden depths and seemingly endless corridors. The trouble is that this movie does not have the budget and the filmmakers enough focus to fully realise what no doubt looked like a solidly scary horror story on the page. Credit to Andrew C. Erin for managing to make the New York setting into a character of its own with some fantastic aerial shots of the apartment building and also for evoking the dusty creepiness that old buildings can give off if lit correctly and framed at the right angles but the worship of other movies does not stop with the look and feel of the film as the plot itself owes more than a passing nod to SAW – which is not surprising as this film was co-produced by Mark Burg, one of the producers behind the SAW franchise – in that people who don’t appreciate the second chance they’ve been given are dealt with in ways that Jigsaw would no doubt approve of. There is also a tonal shift that happens halfway through that ceases with the ROSEMARY’S BABY-style atmospherics and delves straight into gruesome and bleak SAW-esque torture porn territory, with one special effects set piece in particular standing out as the likely reason this film got an 18 certificate. However, this is where the film starts to fall down as the plot and intrigue of the first half are replaced with generic slasher movie tropes that don’t sit well with what went before.
Julie Benz shows she has chops as a scream queen/final girl or whatever you want to label the character type as but the lack of direction for her character and the frankly dumb decisions Jackie makes throughout just go to prove that it is what is going on (or not going on, as the case may be) behind the camera that makes what is happening in front of it seem all the more ridiculous. Danielle Harris is only in the film for about five minutes in what is a wasted cameo and most of the other characters, whilst acted fairly well, just don’t feel that complete, with the exception of Eleanor who is the most interesting of the lot and we do get a little insight into her motives but not enough, although the sequel that the ending is so obviously leading to could reveal a whole lot more if it gets made.
RESURRECTION OF EVIL could have been something great as it has a good story idea at its core, a decent cast and a director able to cultivate a spooky atmosphere that draws upon previous apartment/hotel-based horrors that terrified us in the past but somewhere along the line the individual parts just don’t add up to anything other than an incoherent mess that feels like compromises were made to keep in budget and an ending was cobbled together to get it released on time. The clumsy shift from gothic chiller to slasher/chase movie doesn’t do the film any favours, despite some fairly impressive gore, and the whole thing comes off like there were too many ideas tossed into the pot at the beginning of production and instead of throwing some of them out and sticking to what worked, somebody decided to include them all and leave most of them underdeveloped. Had the filmmakers decided what they wanted it to be and stuck with it then RESURRECTION OF EVIL could have had some potential but given the meandering direction and general lack of focus, frustratingly underwhelming is probably the highest praise it could hope to get.