Heartless is a brutal spin on the legend of Faust. Jamie was born with dark purple birthmarks all over his body. The most prominent is large heart covering half of his face. People are shocked by his appearance and he has settled for a lonely life. Then he witnesses a strange group of creatures brutally murder a father and son on the streets and everything changes.
This is a very dense throwback British horror film. A whole lot of things happen in just under two hours and they don’t all add up to a single cohesive story. However, no plot thread feels extraneous and it certainly doesn’t drag.
Writer/director Philip Ridley casts a very wide net of horror. Heartless is a ghost story, a slasher, a demonic horror, a suspense film, a morality tale, and a character study. Ridley presents a vision of the world that relies on the notion that evil can exist without good and God is a construct of false hopes.
That last conceit is where the problems with the film come in. The structure of the film is so dense just to try to support an out of place anti-religious agenda. It doesn’t need to exist to explore the far more interesting evil without good concept. Nothing said about religion is as powerful as Jamie’s journey.
This is not a story that leaves room for such a specific critique. It is so much more successful at broader philosophical statements. Scenes that include religious iconography and settings become a distraction.
The true star of Heartless is the character design. Jamie is instantly recognizable due to the prominence and shape of his birthmarks. Styled with unkempt jet black hair and a navy hoodie always drawn over his face, Jamie becomes an instantly sympathetic figure.
The creatures are menacing in a vaguely reptilian way. Their scaly skin is overshadowed by glinting gold fangs and black hoodies to hide their true form. If you weren’t watching closely, you would want to mistake their strange facades for masks.
The devil figure and his assistant are an unsettling match of innocence and corruption. He stands tall and pale. His body is riddled with scars and burns, including a hand scarred over into a pair of claws.
His assistant is a young Indian girl, swathed in a fine sari covered in luminescent beads. She is at his every beck and call, forced to tempt lost souls into a deal with the devil. The relationship between the two is established, with cultural and historical baggage thanks to British Colonialism, once they interact for the first time onscreen.
Heartless is an extremely ambitious horror film. Its success is defined by how you respond to that push from morality into religion. There’s a fine line between the two and, in this case, the film loses its footing whenever the boundary is broken.
Have you seen Heartless? Netflix has recommended it to me for months now and I only just took up their suggestion. I don’t regret it. How about you? Sound off with your thoughts below.