The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"FANTASTIC FEST REVIEW: HEARTLESS"

Four celebrated titles screening at the 2010 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas are available simultaneously on demand via IFC Midnight, and for 30 days afterward. The Aisle Seat is proud to cover these films.

Heartless
Jim Sturgess plays the sensitive hero of Heartless, showing at Fantastic Fest and on demand.

Heartless is one of the most notable horror movies I've seen in a long time, for a simple reason: it's sad. Most films in the genre aren't terribly concerned with any emotions other than fear, or some variation of it. This one doesn't just want you to be scared, it wants you to be moved. Finding actual emotional content in a horror flick is much too rare these days, so this is a cause to celebrate.

In the movie, directed by Philip Ridley, Jim Sturgess (21, Across the Universe) plays Jamie, a London photographer often ridiculed by others for the large heart-shaped birthmark that covers part of his face and runs down his neck and arm. The outward torment it causes is matched in intensity by a more internal torment: Jamie's biggest supporter, his father (Timothy Spall, whom we see in flashbacks), died a decade earlier and he's never recovered from the loss. Jamie confesses his sorrows to a new neighbor, emphasizing that he thinks no woman will ever love him because of his physical appearance. No wonder he trolls the streets with his hood pulled up around his head.

A second family tragedy sets Jamie a path that ultimately leads to a Satanic figure named Papa B (Joseph Mawle) who purports to create chaos desperately needed by the world. Papa B offers to vanquish Jamie's mark if he'll commit a few inconsequential acts of mayhem, such as spray-painting sacrilegious graffiti. Jamie agrees, and wakes up the next day with a flawless face and newfound confidence. Soon after, he begins romancing a young woman he's long had his eye on. Life seems good. Then Papa B abruptly changes the rules, insisting that Jamie do something far, far worse if he wants to continue his chance at a normal life.

Heartless has many of the things you'd expect from a horror picture: demons, scary hallucinations, people bursting into flame, moments designed to jolt you, etc. There is a murder - involving Saran Wrap - that is one of the most gruesome ever committed to celluloid. The villain is more or less the devil himself, with lizard-faced figures doing his ominous bidding. Actually, the movie packs in so many disparate horror elements that, in moments, it teeters on being a bit loopy, which is my only substantive criticism.

At the same time, underneath all the scare stuff, this is essentially a human story about a guy willing to go to some very desperate lengths to fit in, and Ridley never once loses sight of that. Jamie has been made fun of for so long that his desire to be average has warped his perspective. Dealing with his physical appearance or his father's death alone would be difficult enough; that he must deal with both is nearly unbearable. Jim Sturgess is outstanding in the role, intensely bringing to life the unhappy, longing quality that is Jamie's defining feature. As he encounters Papa B and the accompanying terror that ensues, we're not worried so much about what will happen to him physically as we are of him experiencing even more hurt than he's already endured.

Ridley shoots Heartless brilliantly. The way he and cinematographer Matt Grey film even basic things like London streets, apartment buildings, and convenience stores is deeply melancholic. Of course, the look of the movie is emulating the way Jamie sees the world, which is why it's so powerful. We feel sorrow dripping from everywhere.

The balance between horror and emotion is totally captivating, and the film has an off-kilter romantic vibe to it. Jamie makes a Faustian deal simply because he wants to feel loved by someone with the same intensity that his father loved him. I wouldn't dream of blowing the ending, but it introduces yet another emotion that guarantees you'll be thinking about Heartless for days afterward. It's proof that horror movies can also be humane.

( out of four)


Heartless is one of four 2010 Fantastic Fest films available to watch on demand for 30 days, from IFC Midnight. The other titles are High Lane, Primal and Red White & Blue. Past Fantastic Fest entries Doghouse, The Human Centipede and The Good, The Bad, the Weird are also available during this time. Check your cable or satellite provider for details.