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 – THE BEASTER BUNNY – *
Directed by The Snygg Brothers. Starring Peter Sullivan, Jon Arthur, Kristina Beaudouin, Valerie Bittner, Marisol Custodio, Darian Caine, Tom Cikoski. Horror/Comedy, USA, 79 mins, Cert 15.
Released in the UK on DVD, On-Demand & Download by Second Sight Films on April 3rd 2017.
Isn’t it weird that we look at monster movies from decades past that have no story, dodgy special effects and acting that makes your local am-dram nativity play seem like BAFTA bait with a certain amount of affection? There are any number of creature features that try our patience with all manner of stupidity and yet we still watch, and even occasionally (and secretly) like them, giving them a pass while more ‘serious’ movies get critically mauled for crimes against cinema that may only amount to a slightly suspect character motive or an under-par bit of line delivery.
And now we live in an age where deliberately dumb monster movies - SHARKNADO, MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS, PIRANHA 3DD to name but three – are put out to an audience that enjoys them on an ironic level for a bit of a laugh but once the credits roll the fun is over and it’s onto the next low-budget schlock-fest ripe for ridicule. And then there’s THE BEASTER BUNNY.
Yes, THE BEASTER BUNNY is exactly the film you think it is when you hear the title – there is a giant bunny hopping its way around the forest killing unsuspecting victims in a violent twist on the traditional Easter egg hunt. However, the issue with this film isn’t the ludicrous idea of a huge killer rabbit because we’ve all seen countless nature-gone-mad movies and are prepared to accept such a fantastical premise; no, the big problem with THE BEASTER BUNNY is that it is just downright terrible on every conceivable level, from the green screened bunny that looks more like the rat-monkey from Peter Jackson’s BRAINDEAD than it does anything from WATERSHIP DOWN to the endless nondescript people that keep wandering around the forest waiting to get munched. Funnily enough, the acting isn’t as terrible as you would expect – there is worse to be found in any Troma movie you care to mention – and watching glamour models get their clothes ripped off in order to be slaughtered never gets boring, but the manner in which they are offed is so badly executed that it isn’t even funny as the umpteenth severed limb drops to the ground in a splash of CGI blood that doesn’t move quickly or fluidly enough to look even remotely cartoonish, let alone real.
If there are any positives to take away from THE BEASTER BUNNY then it would appear that the people involved seemed to be having a good time, which is nice for them, and there is, in the first 30 minutes anyway, plenty of gratuitous nudity that certainly acts as a distraction from the childish nature of everything else going on. There is an attempt at a vague sub-plot with a stoner mayor who won’t spend any money on improving the town while people seem to be getting killed at every turn but a sub-plot is pointless when there isn’t even a main plot, and the film does try to give you a couple of characters in dog catcher Doug (Peter Sullivan) and wannabe actress Brenda (Marisol Custodio) by making them the focus of the mayhem but they’re just painfully annoying, although Custodio is at least attempting to make it worth her while showing up to the set every day by making out that she is appearing in a film. As you may have gathered, THE BEASTER BUNNY is crap and when everybody involved seems to know it that doesn’t make it any more tolerable to sit through. Look at it like this – big budget turkey JAWS: THE REVENGE turns 30 this year and is now accepted as a so-bad-it’s-good crowd-puller; THE BEASTER BUNNY will be forgotten about after a week and hopefully never mentioned again, unless, of course, THE BEASTER BUNNY 2 hops along anytime soon and if it does then all hope for humanity is well and truly lost. Please don’t make it happen.