Since deal-with-the-devil stories aren't particularly new or exciting (well, not anymore), it's actually quite surprising that "Heartless" turns out to be pretty darn good. It's an absurd film which often times treats itself as a comedy (if that's the intent), and at another moment, it's a solid horror film. It's never scary, per se, but it does have a good atmosphere going for it. As a mood piece, I'd say it's pretty great. But of course, there's the story to hold it back; and that's exactly what happens here. So "Heartless" is not without its many flaws, sure. I get that. But it's worth the watch anyways. I'll explain why.
The film begins with Jamie (played by Jim Sturgess) walking around his crappy neighborhood, taking photos of just about anything he happens upon. He sees a freaky gang with demonic faces under the hoods. He runs, but crime soon follows. Soon, the gangs kill his mother, a neighborly friend, and many others. Violence is amuck, in this world, and Jamie is just trying to get through each day alive at this point.
Did I mention he also bears a birth mark on his face? It renders him troubled and paranoid of his potential "ugliness". He thinks that he will never meet a girl who can love him because of this, which may or may not be true. So he consults a man who claims he can take all this ugliness away. The man asks only for vandalism and violence on command, in exchange for the removal of the birthmark(s). The trouble is that Jamie has recently fallen in love with a woman named Tia (Clemence Poesy), although she may be next on Jamie's master's list of things to execute.
The film is nice to its audience. It's not simply a generic tale of redemption, fate, and pacts with the devil/devil-man. It's more than that. This is a superbly made film; flawlessly shot from start to finish, competently acted, and well-directed. As I said, the problems lie within the story; which is sometimes too absurd for its own good. And then there's the ending, which is heartfelt and sort of touching, but also pretentious in its intentions of making us "choose for ourselves" what the REAL ending is. I believe that only great films should be able to do that, and "Heartless" is not a great film, so there's that.
However, I did say that I liked the movie, and it's not like I've changed my mind since then. This film is thoroughly entertaining whether it's being funny, attempting to be scary/horrific or not. I could have it either way; "Heartless" the dark comedy or "Heartless" the horror movie. I suppose this film answers this call by saying: why not have both?
This is director Philip Ridley's first feature in fifteen years. While the work (and minor anticipation) pays off, this is just barely. There are flaws to this film, many of them crucial scars on the production. But the movie has its redeeming factors, such as its imaginative visuals of body-horror and CG (which isn't particularly awful, mind you), as well as its performances. Sturgess has had his better days, his worse days, and then he's had days like this: where he just can't decide, and has to wear his hood throughout. This film has appeal, if you're someone like me. And if you're not, then I don't know what to say. But "Heartless" is not heartless; it has a heart. It just doesn't beat for everyone.