out of Five
Running time: 105
Intensely weird and extremely dark, Philip Ridley's long-awaited third feature is a future cult classic waiting to happen, thanks to powerful imagery, an intriguing script and terrific performances from a superb cast. You'll need multiple viewings to figure it all out, but that's sort of the point.
What's it all about?
Heartless is the long-awaited third feature from cult writer-director Philip Ridley, who made The Reflecting Skin and The Passion of Darkly Noon. Set in East London, the film stars Jim Sturgess as Jamie Morgan, a photographer who feels like an outcast because of the heart-shaped port-wine birthmark on his face.
When his mother (Ruth Sheen as Marion) is horrifically murdered by a demonic street gang who may or may not be actual demons, Jamie swears revenge and makes a Faustian pact with the mysterious Papa B (Joseph Rawle), who removes his scars and promises to grant his wishes... but at a cost. Shortly afterwards, Jamie begins a loving relationship with the beautiful Tia (Clemence Poesy) but their happiness is quickly cut short when he learns of Papa B's price.
Jim Sturgess is excellent as Jamie, delivering an achingly sympathetic performance that anchors the film even when you have no idea what's going on. There's also strong support from Rawle and Poesy, while Eddie Marsan (as Papa B's surreal Weapons Man) and Noel Clarke both contribute terrific cameos.
Ridley conjures up some genuinely disturbing imagery, courtesy of Matt Gray's striking cinematography and some impressive visual effects work. In addition, the trippy script borrows liberally from other sources (e.g. David Lynch, Jacob's Ladder, fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast), while never seeming derivative.
The film's main problem is that it's hard to emotionally invest in Jamie when you don't know what's real and what's in his head. Similarly, the film goes to some very dark places and the script occasionally struggles to find the right tone, veering from outright horror to social realism to black comedy to intense psychodrama in a series of jarring shifts that don't always work.
Impressively directed and superbly acted, Heartless is a genuinely unsettling British horror that will definitely get under your skin. Worth seeing.