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 – Destiny 2 ****
Developed by Bungie. Fighting, PEGI 16
Released in UK on PS4/Xbox One by Activision. on 6th September 2017, RRP £49.99.
Destiny 2 is everything the first game should have been – the single player campaign is one of the best of the year, and damn does it look great. Heck, even John Carpenter has admitted to sinking hours upon hours into this one in a recent interview with The Guardian. It truly is an all-consuming game that, in theory, should keep you engrossed for years to come given that developer, Bungie, has plans to roll out additional content from now until the inevitable Destiny 3 arrives.
Where the narrative-based missions in the first game felt stitched together, this time around everything feels far more coherent and fleshed out; you’re playing through an actual storyline with huge stakes while facing off against an antagonist who feels extremely well thought out in terms of his motives for galactic destruction. We don’t want to say too much more for fear of spoiling some of the big story beats you’ll encounter over the course of the campaign, but take our word for it – Destiny 2 is head and shoulders above its predecessor.
Of course, the campaign mode is just the tip of the iceberg because once you’ve finished the game’s story mode it becomes something entirely different as soon as you start taking part in the plethora of online tasks Bungie has cooked up. There are weekly challenges and Public Events, which are essential for levelling up your character’s abilities in battle, as well as player-versus-player modes if you prefer a good old-fashioned fire-fight with gamers from around the world.
The game and the world itself that Bungie has cooked up just feels so much more enhanced than the first time we stepped foot inside it back in 2014, and we have a feeling we’ll be sticking around for a long time to come if the developers can continue to deliver in-game content as thrilling as it has in these, the first few weeks of launch.