With BEASTLY opening this weekend, your significant other may want to entice you to go out and check out the gothic horror fairy tale. Now, I haven’t seen the film myself, but BEASTLY looks about as tepid as it comes…like POWDER with tribal tattoos enmeshed in a plot that hinges heavily on soupy teen angst to satiate the TWILIGHT tweens. I think I’ll give that one a pass and maybe…just maybe, check it out when it hits cable. But if you’re in the mood for a gothic romance filled to the brim with horrific elements, you should seek out a little film quietly released toward the end of last year called HEARTLESS.
HEARTLESS tells the tale of lonely dreamer named Morgan (played by 21 and ACROSS THE UNIVERSE’s Jim Sturgess) who is scarred with a heart-shaped birthmark on the left side of his face. Morgan spends most of his time glooming around trying to steal glances at the models he sees at his job where he is a camera assistant. Morgan dreams of living a normal life and an encounter with one model in particular (the nummy-licious Tia played by Clemence 127 HOURS and IN BRUGES Poesy) is the object of Morgan’s desire. To have a normal life, Morgan would give anything. Even his own soul. What unfolds is one of the best Faustian stories I’ve seen in quite a while.
HEARTLESS owes much to other horror films; HELLRAISER, JACOB’S LADDER, and even FIGHT CLUB come to mind as the most prominent influences here, as reality’s edges fray and Morgan is placed on a quest to save the life of a little girl in order to save his chances at normalcy. The film is a relentless descent into madness/deal with the devil story with stunning imagery, unconventional twists, and an exceptionally amazing cast.
Though I would give this film a huge recommendation to any horror fan, I do think that it is somewhat guilty of trying to stuff too much into one package. I loved the deal with the devil portion. Morgan making a deal with the evil Papa B (played to sleazy perfection by Joseph Mawle) to heal his face in order to get the girl is played out at an operatic level. I loved every moment of it. But where HEARTLESS falters is when Morgan is distracted from his love quest in order to save a young child. Morgan safeguarding this metaphor for good in child form seems to come out of the blue and late in the film. I understand the “pure good vs dark evil with Morgan in the middle” symbolism writer/director Philip Ridley is going for, but it’s somewhat heavy handed and unnecessary in a film that already has an awesome plot of a man who makes a deal with the devil to find love.
The cast of HEARTLESS is superb. Sturgess is great as Morgan and hits every beat in this story that takes his character through the emotional wringer. Poesy is enchanting as his object of affection; she’s pure, gorgeous, and one can understand why Morgan is so smitten with her. Timothy Spall has a small but important role and offers some emotional heft as Morgan’s father. As I said above, Joseph Mawle plays the devil to greasy perfection, making his Papa B character look powerful and unearthly with nothing more than scar makeup. Finally, Eddie Marsan, a character actor you’ve seen in countless films, has a dinky role as the Weapons Man, who answers to Papa B and gives Morgan his demonic assignments after his wish his granted. The high quality of actors in HEARTLESS sets this film apart from your typical horror show.
HEARTLESS is not a perfect film. I think it has one or two ideas too many for its own good. But the gorgeous imagery of horror, the fantastic slant on the Faustian deal, and phenomenal actors make this film a must see despite its flaws. HEARTLESS is a horror romance most definitely worth your while.