Heartless review

Unlucky Jim…

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Philip Ridley is a British auteur like no other, his rare output channelling maverick instincts into films of intense emotion and ripe imagery.

Fifteen long years since his last flick, The Passion Of Darkly Noon, his overdue comeback is typically, brilliantly barmy; lunging from high-rise horror to hallucinogenic nightmare, religio-shocker, urban fairy tale, self-reflexive study of socio-psychological fears and beyond.

Jim Sturgess anchors the choppy genre swerves with a wounded-animal turn as Jamie, a young photographer sporting a heart-shaped birthmark on his face. His dreams of acceptance and his late, loving father (Timothy Spall) provide his only consolation from East London’s mean streets, where packs of feral hoodies seem almost... somehow... properly demonic. All human hope seems lost when his mum is killed, but the devilish Papa B (Joseph Mawle) offers Jamie a deal...

Things get truly twisted here, Ridley leads us down a sidestreet, and drops us off the map. The trip to Papa B’s lair horrifies, like David Lynch and Clive Barker’s bad dreams copulating, but segues into scenes of romantic bliss. Fantasy then loses the turf war to terror when Eddie Marsan’s Weapons Man arrives, prompting a surreal twist on gangland Guy Ritchie-isms.

Disorienting? Sure, but Ridley only loses footing when he cuts too close to genre norms, a murder sequence being one such instance. Ace casting and subtextual heft mostly counterbalance his deviations, as does the portrayal of London as a wild world unto itself – a sense of self-containment amplified by a score of original songs sung by Sturgess.

Crucially, the horror packs emotional weight: Ridley knows that scares don’t sting if we don’t care. In a plot jammed with jolts, the keenest twist might just be the heartbreaking finale, where tears are boldly substituted for fears.

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Freelance writer

Kevin Harley is a freelance journalist with bylines at Total Film, Radio Times, The List, and others, specializing in film and music coverage. He can most commonly be found writing movie reviews and previews at GamesRadar+.