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 – WARCRAFT – **
Directed by Duncan Jones. Starring Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbell, Ben Foster, Paula Patton, Ben Schnetzer. Fantasy, UK, 123 mins, cert 12.
Released in the UK on DVD, BluRay and VOD by Universal Pictures on the 10th October, 2016.
The first of this year's big summer season blockbusters (technically late spring, since it hit UK cinemas as the major half-term attraction at the end of May), and sadly it's one of the very weakest: a two-hour pudding full of orcs, elves, mages and Guardians, with a lot of portentous silliness and very little in the way of a sense of humour. That's not to suggest WARCRAFT should have had jokes and winks to the camera, but it needed a lighter touch. A whopping hundred and sixty million dollars (estimated budget according to the IMDb) buys a lot of CGI and motion capture, but sadly it hasn't gone anywhere near buying a halfway believable character - human or not - to root for.
Because of a magical green energy known as The Fel, an evil Orc chief named Gul'Dan (the movie is full of silly Scrabble rack names) has managed to open a portal to the peaceful world of Azeroth. But the initial attack has left enough Fel traces for young Guardian Novitiate Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) to urge the summoning of Guardian Medivh (Ben Foster). Meanwhile, Frostwolf Chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell) is uncomfortable with Gul'Dan's plan and seeks an alliance with King Llane (Dominic Cooper) and his chief Commander and brother-in-law Lothar (Travis Fimmel). They have two days to prevent the opening of the portal and arrival of the entire Orc Horde, and Khadgar is starting to suspect the Orcs may originally have been summoned from this side....
And so on. Much of the mayhem - numerous battle scenes, monster fights and bursts of magic lightning - is green-screened into oblivion and much of the film actually resembles a high-definition Pixar movie rather than actual live-action. And whilst it's certainly more colourful and less ponderous than the LORD OF THE RINGS and HOBBIT series, and obviously a lot shorter (you don't have to wait two hours for the clobbering to start), it's not much more fun: this should have been a fun matinee romp instead of another grim, soulless epic that fatally takes itself far too seriously. At heart it's a kids' movie: a distraction full of pretty colours and bright lights to get you through the stodge, but the relentless intensity of the action sequences has landed it with a 12 certificate.
It's directed by Duncan Jones, but it's nowhere near as enjoyable or frankly as interesting as either SOURCE CODE or the genuinely intriguing MOON: both made on a fraction of WARCRAFT's budget, which is admittedly lower than most superhero blockbusters but is still way too high to allow any kind of personal vision. (Still, look on the bright side: at one point Uwe Boll was interested in directing it!) Watching it again on a screener, it's still not any good: it's colourful and full of stuff happening but there's no real meat to it and it all comes across as a bit silly (it does have a character called Orgrim Doomhammer, after all). Maybe if I was a gamer I might feel differently. Despite the cover art calling the film WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING, it's only WARCRAFT on the screen.