Heartless is multimedia artist Philip Ridley’s third feature film, and his first since 1995; in the interim, he’s been busy with plays and novels, many geared to young audiences. Though well into manhood, Heartless’s protagonist, Jamie (Jim Sturgess), is hung up on feelings of irreconcilable differences and alienation usually associated with adolescent confusion. Still living with his mum, Jamie’s held back from life by mortification at the merlot-colored birthmark covering the left side of his face. It’s just as well, given what he sees on the graffiti-covered streets of East End dungeon London, infested by thugs whose hoodies conceal—can this really be?—fang-bristling salamander faces. In time, Jamie meets their master, an unsavory fellow named “Papa B” (Joseph Mawle), who offers the lad a dirty deal—that “B” very probably stands for Beelzebub—trading cosmetic favors for human sacrifice. With erratic success, Heartless tries a number of different veins—urban fairy tale with “There was no magic, it was you all along” twist, supernatural family drama—but it’s on firmest footing as a macabre comedy, with the too-brief appearances of Eddie Marsan’s pitbull-faced Cockney devil and Jamie’s first victim, a preening rockabilly hustler who negotiates for “the price of a kebab and a Diet Coke” before being handed over to Papa B.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 17, 2010