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.
GAME REView – Rogue Trooper: Redux ***
Developed by Rebellion. Action, PEGI 16
Released in UK on PS4/Xbox One/Nintendo Switch by Rebellion on 17th October 2017, RRP £19.99.
If any FrightFest readers have been playing video games as long as this writer then they’ll certainly remember this little slice of 2000AD action that was originally released all the way back in 2006 on PlayStation 2. Rogue Trooper was a pretty ambitious title for its time, sporting an excellent narrative culled from the pages of 2000AD perfectly blended with a slew of set pieces and slick sci-fi settings.
Interestingly, this is the second time the game has been re-mastered (it appeared on the Nintendo Wii in 2009), and even though the developers have done a fantastic job of updating the visuals on display here, it still can’t quite escape its decade old PlayStation roots. Still, don’t let that put you off because this is damn good fun from start to finish as you run and gun your way through a meaty campaign that sees the titular blue-skinned infantryman embark on a mission of revenge on the rather grim and unsettled looking Nu-Earth, a planet filled with noxious gases that Rogue and his fellow army bros are immune to.
As you battle your way through the levels the game throws plenty of eye-watering battles your way, as well as a handful of stealth elements that serve as little moments of respite amongst the shootouts that feel very inspired by different real-world wartime eras. There’s also plenty of cool gadgets and weapons to play with too, but one of the more intriguing elements on display here is the one directly lifted from the comic strip – when a Trooper dies his mind can be transferred to a data chip and inserted into Rogue’s gun, helmet and bag.
It may sound odd on paper, but it makes for slick game design – your gun can be placed on the ground as a sentry, your helmet can be used to hack computer and create holographic distractions, and your bag can be used to create ammo and equipment from salvaged scrap. Alongside the graphical clean up other elements have been tweaked, including the aforementioned stealth sections and the cover system, which was more than a little irksome when we played it back in 2006.
Okay, let’s be honest – if you’re looking for a state of the art shooter with modern day game design that’s going to blow your mind then this isn’t for you, but if you’re prepared to forgive the rough edges then Rogue Trooper is worth a look.