You know what’s worse than going in to see a bad movie? Going to see a bad movie that everyone praised for its genius. It’s like being left out of an in-joke: everyone’s smiling and you just don’t get what the hell is so funny.
That’s exactly how I feel about this movie. When I first saw reviews, key phrases caught my eye, like “The British Donnie Darko,” and “A psychological rollercoaster!” and “Restored my faith in the horror franchise!” All this restored in me was the belief that people have low expectations.
Let’s dive into this pile of crap – Heartless.
Released in 2009, the film follows a young photographer named Jamie, who is very shy because he has large birthmarks on his eye, arm and shoulder. He lives with his mother until one day she is set on fire with a Molotov cocktail by a group of gang members. But not just ordinary gang members – they’re lizard people!
Jamie makes a deal with a demonic figure named Papa B in order to remove the birth marks from his skin. Papa B agrees, but says that a weapons expert will come find him with instructions on how to repay him, though he doesn’t know when the expert will come. If he doesn’t complete the “act of chaos” by midnight of the following full moon, he’ll suffer the consequences.
Unluckily for Jamie, the weapon’s expert comes the very next day, telling him that he must rip someone’s heart out while they are still alive with his father’s old souvenir knife, and place it on the top step of any church he likes by midnight that day. He finds a rather…obnoxious male prostitute and murders him, all while being encouraged by a little Indian girl named Belle.
Jamie falls in love with a model he’s seen before at his studio, finding the confidence to talk to her now that he no longer scarred. But Papa B is angry that Belle has chosen to live with Jamie and commands him to murder his new girlfriend. As he’s planning on doing it, Jamie’s little pissant of a nephew runs in, revealing that the model was just with him in order to steal something valuable from Jamie to pay off a gang debt. As the model denies it, she is shot by a gang member, who then chases Jamie out into the streets where he sees the salamander people and Papa B. As he speaks with him, he realizes he’s had his birthmark all along, and that everything that happened has all been a schizophrenic illusion.
Realizing this, he allows one of the gang members, who was never in fact a salamander-man to throw a Molotov-cocktail at him, and sees his deceased father one last time before the credits role.
Let’s start off with fault number one: this film is not scary. I got scared of The Ring for goodness sake, something people laughed at, and yet somehow this is what freaked them out? It’s about as scary as a five year old with a balloon; it could be very scary in the right lightning and circumstance but it’s just some kid and a balloon. What is it going to do, static-shock you to death? It’s only unnerving in some parts because of its visuals, which I’ll go into further, but otherwise it’s pretty dull. If I’m not clutching a pillow in a corner, it can’t be that scary.
Second, you can see the plot twist coming a mile away. There’s a brief mention of Jamie having some sort of mental disorder, that he might be “seeing things” according to his mother. And, of course, what a huge shock, turns out he’s schizophrenic, which is why he saw the salamander people, Papa B, and saw no birthmark. There’s even a scene with the male prostitute where he looks incredulously at Jamie cause he’s talking to Belle, because it looks like Jamie is talking to himself. There are some people who think the film leaves you to choose whether it was real or not, but it’s pretty obvious he’s just insane.
Third, almost none of the characters have any charm or likeability. Jamie is a little punk, who whimpers and sulks around because he has a skin deformity…well schizophrenia, but one issue at a time. He’s a coward with no backbone, and barely any common sense. The “confidence” was there all along, since we know the scars never left for real, so he’s just being an emo-twat the entire time he could see the scars. Jim Sturgess is doing his best, but you just want to slap this character across the face so many times.
The hot blonde girl, whose name I didn’t bother to learn cause it matters very little, is so forgettably bland, you could replace her with a sack of rice and you could produce the same effect. Basically, she’s used to represent all that Jamie couldn’t have “when he had the birthmark” so to speak, though it turns out she was originally going out with Jamie cause of aforementioned gang-troubles…though what they are is never clear. Then comes Jamie’s stupid nephew whose in the film for less than 10 minutes collectively, but my God you learn to hate him fast!
The only character I did like was Jamie’s neighbor/friend A.J. who has more charisma in his one hand than the rest of the cast does collectively. He’s funny, suave, kind, and hell, even has a past with one of these violent gangs that are a big part of the movie. He can fight AND take a beating, he’s resourceful, and you know what happens? He dies. He gets cut up, limbs everywhere, and at towards the end Papa B takes out his head and starts to eat his face. Even his death is more interesting than the rest of these characters!
Fourth, the plot doesn’t seem to be able to focus on anything. First it’s about gang violence in England, but then shifts to being about being self-conscious and isolated. And then Papa B comes in and it’s all about a Faustian deal, as well as morality, but then it’s about insanity, and at the end, about image and morality…I think. This plot has some many ideas, it doesn’t know how to do any of them correctly, so what comes out is a big, mashed up pile of plot threads that go nowhere.
I will say the film shines in the cinematography and atmosphere department. The streets of London look and feel mysterious, dangerous, and even claustrophobic. The gang posters and symbols really do give off a sense of ever-present, watchful danger. The lighting is perfect, and if the plot wasn’t so bad, it would genuinely be a gorgeous film that uses sight more than noise to disturb its audience. As it stands, it’s all right, easily the best part of the movie.
Overall, this film is one hell of a disappointment. The characters are bland and poorly written, the story is clichéd and painfully easy to predict, and none of it was thrilling or scary. I’m still in awe of the high marks this thing got, because of how terribly trashastic it was. Really, it’s a miracle that this even got produced, let alone released. Maybe I’m just not seeing what everyone is, but I can tell you that it’s nowhere near Donnie Darko standards.
Next week I’ll be giving you my predictions for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. And you know how I love Oscar season!