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 – RESIDENT EVIL: VENDETTA ***
Directed by Takanori Tsujimoto. Starring Kevin Dorman, Matthew Mercer, Erin Cahill. Japan 2017 Certificate: 15 93 mins
Out now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (Blu-Ray / DVD)
For those not keeping up, this is the third instalment in the CG animated RESIDENT EVIL series, which began with DEGENERATION in 2008 and DAMNATION in 2012. Japanese-made (reflecting the massive revenue generated in Japan for both game and movie franchises), the series is executive produced by THE GRUDGE mastermind Takashi Shimizu and is set in the same universe as the video games. This one is set between RESIDENT EVIL 6 and RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD. Regardless of the bold title of the most recent RESIDENT EVIL movie (“THE FINAL CHAPTER”), you get a sense that this franchise will outlive us all in game, animation and theatrical live-action formats.
Recurring characters Chris Redfield (Kevin Dorman) and Leon Kennedy (Matthew Mercer) are joined for the first time here by Biotechnology Institute professor Rebecca Chambers (Erin Cahill) when a missing undercover agent is revealed to have become a zombie under the command of a “death merchant”. He’s about to unleash a biochemical weapon on New York City, bitterly avenging the U.S. government’s slaughter of his own family. Chambers, meanwhile, is studying the “A” virus to make valuable links between the zombies and the bioweapons…and is destined to be threatened and strapped to a table in the final act.
Repetitive action set pieces -with or without the undead- punctuate this listless, blandly animated feature: as with the weakest of the live-action franchise, it has all the thrill and engagement of watching someone else play a RESIDENT EVIL game while their mum keeps interrupting the action with offers of tea and bourbons. The vocal performances are as uninspired as the comic book dialogue: “Maybe this is what I always wanted – a world in flames where only the dead remain…”
As always with movies of this ilk, there’s no ending as such – just yet another tease for future instalments, contrived by the accountants who continue to craft these interchangeable, lucratively endless spin-offs.