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Heartless

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Jim Sturgess in Heartless
Heartless? Gormless is a more apt description. At the core of Philip Ridley's movie lie some decent ideas and noble intentions, but the execution is about as spot on as the England football team during a penalty shootout. The most terrifying aspect of this tedious British horror flick is sitting through it and slowly feeling your brain turn to mush.

Amidst an urban setting of dilapidated council estates and gang warfare, Jim Sturgess stars as the thoroughly dull protagonist Jamie - a young photographer anguished over a prominent facial birthmark and the absence of his father. He spends the first half of the movie traipsing the grimy streets gurning at the violence perpetrated by a variety of hoodies - and believes them to be evil demons. His mother is killed in one such attack (that's shockingly bereft of any emotional impact) and he soon enters into a Faustian pact with a figure called Papa B - who eerily resembles Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode in the early '90s and cracks his neck like Gary Oldman in Leon. In return for a promise to rid him of his birthmark, Jamie must do some serious violation indeed for Papa. It takes the movie almost an hour to reach this stage - the real crux of the plot - by which time all hope is lost for redemption.

The musings over the nature of society - and whether beauty lurks beneath the dark exterior - are annoyingly over-conveyed through the dialogue. Almost every character at some stage explicitly states what a s***hole of a world we live in. The old filmmaking adage of 'show, don't tell' should have been adhered to. There's one particularly laughable sequence in which an acquaintance of Jamie randomly decides to start discussing one of his tattoos. Hmm, why are this limb and its body art being so obviously foregrounded you might wonder? Well, in the very next scene Jamie wakes up the following morning, turns his television on and is conveniently greeted by one of those ghastly fake news reports - which states that a severed limb bearing a certain tattoo has been found in some wasteland! Can you hear that? It's the sound of my cerebral cortex dribbling out of my ear and dripping onto the popcorn-festooned floor below.

Attempts to scare the audience are poor too. These either consist of stale 'boo' type jolts involving an unexpected tap on the shoulder accompanied by a cacophonous sound, or full-on body mutilation that is unpleasant not scary due to the poor characterisation. You'd feel more pathos for a slab of meat in a butcher's shop window being carved up than for any of the one-dimensional twerps that populate Heartless. An appallingly contrived romantic subplot involving Jamie and a model similarly fails to arouse any interest.

Curiously, Timothy Spall and Eddie Marsan crop up in very minor supporting roles - but even their undoubted thespian talents barely register in such a convoluted and barely coherent tale. Noel Clarke fares best in a supporting role as Jamie's neighbour AJ, a kindhearted geezer who tries to keep his spirits up. As for Sturgess himself, widely touted as a star of the future, he's simply there. On the screen. Alternating between gurning and howling in anguish. It's hard to form an opinion on that basis.

The form and content are a perfect match in Heartless. Both are desperately terrible. It all boils down to a movie with domestic scenes so lacking in emotional truth that they make Home And Away look like a Mike Leigh production and action sequences that look like raw, untreated footage from ITV's risible Demons. Avoid like the bubonic plague.


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