This Faustian-themed urban fairytale, set in the dark heart of East London, centers on a young photographer whose desire to fit in leads him into being tricked into giving up his soul by a malevolent spirit.
Born with a heart-shaped birthmark on his face, Jamie Morgan (a brilliantly-understated performance by Jim Sturgess) feels unwanted, unloved and ugly. But the world he lives in is worse. Gang culture rules the council estates of Bethnal Green, East London, where lives with his widowed mother.
Violence and chaos is everywhere, but so are demons and monsters. As Jamie delves into the darkness that envelops his world, he chances on the enigmatic Papa B (a menacing Joseph Mawles) and his angelic companion Belle (Nikita Mistry, in a breakout role), who make him an offer too good to refuse. But when Jamie learns he has been tricked, a nightmarish struggle to save his soul ensues.
From the unique imagination of director Philip Ridley, Heartless is an exciting journey that weaves in and out of genres… gangland crime thriller, awkward adolescent romance, psychological horror, while being fused with Ridley’s favourite themes of suicide, sacrifice and transfiguration.
And what better place to set the film than East London? So steeped in history and culture, it’s the ideal location for Ridley’s mythical, magical urban tale, where the old world (the spirits and ghosts of the past) collide with the new (gangs, graffiti, violence).
Ridley, whose last feature was the disturbing 1995 Viggo Mortensen/Brendan Fraser film The Passion of Darkly Noon, also gets a chance to see his vision in glorious high definition – which gives the grimy streets of Hackney, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green a crisp, clean, crystalline look that the director has long wanted to do.
At the film’s world premiere in London last September, Ridley described Heartless as ‘the birth of a new genre of horror’. Maybe he was channeling the spirit of the late, great Vincent Price, who famously said true horror films are fairytales, not splatter, gore and the like. And Heartless is very much a fairytale – a uniquely urban British fairytale that will haunt you long after the credits roll.
Released in cinemas on 21st May.
Available on DVD from 24th May