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Philip Ridley, iconoclastic director of THE REFLECTING SKIN, is back with his first film in 14 years, a Satanic odyssey whose tones settle somewhere between the haunted universes of Clive Barker and David Lynch, filtered through the horrific truths that have spiked every work in his filmography. Young hobbyist photographer Jamie Morgan (Jim Sturgess) needs nobody to tell him that life is cruel. Born disfigured with a heart-shaped birthmark pulling across one side of his face, Jamie is regularly taunted and has lived a life of loneliness, long trying to make sense of the day-to-day brutalities he observes. Poverty is everywhere and the current news story in his East End London neighbourhood involves a pack of hooded youths randomly attacking strangers, setting fire to them on the streets. No question, Jamie’s world is every bit as ugly as he is. And soon, with a sudden burst of violence, it will get much uglier. So much uglier that Jamie will be willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to find peace within himself. Even doing some very grisly favours for the distinctly Mephistophelian “Pappa B,” who promises to remove his birthmark in exchange for… we’ll say no more!
Disturbing, poetic and grotesque—not to mention, darkly comic—HEARTLESS marks a strong return to cinema by a truly fascinating voice. Described by Rolling Stone Magazine as “a visionary,” Ridley is the kind of filmmaker whose output is rare, carefully planned and always worth celebrating. In fact, HEARTLESS is only the third feature film in Ridley’s 20-year career. His comeback work is a grim urban fairytale centered on the need to find reason in chaos, sense in the senseless. And it delivers serious jolts and surprises. Part of Ridley’s genius is his uncanny ability to make powerful, introspective films that thrill and entertain audiences in spite of their wounded severity, and HEARTLESS is no exception. A film this heavy shouldn’t be this fun, yet here it is. Sturgess carries the film flawlessly, evoking a tender vulnerability layered atop bedrock of fear and anger, the stark embodiment of a broken ego drifting through hurt. Ridley’s famously poignant use of locations has never been stronger—HEARTLESS utilizes its crime-riddled housing estate locales as a frightening backdrop for dark contemplations on weakness and evil, staging its tale against a world that is literally going to hell. Co-starring Noel Clarke, also on the Fantasia screen this year in CENTURION and DOGHOUSE, and featuring a wickedly deadpan turn by Eddie Marsan as “the weapons man,” this film is inspired black bliss.