Heartless (2009 film)

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Heartless poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Philip Ridley
Produced by Pippa Cross
Richard Raymond
Written by Philip Ridley
Starring Jim Sturgess
Joseph Mawle
Noel Clarke
Clémence Poésy
Nikita Mistry
Timothy Spall
Music by David Julyan
Cinematography Matt Gray
Edited by Chris Gill
Paul Knight
Distributed by Lionsgate (UK)
IFC Films (US)
Release dates
  • 31 August 2009 (2009-08-31) (FrightFest)
  • 21 May 2010 (2010-05-21) (United Kingdom)
Running time
114 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Heartless is a 2009 British horror film written and directed by Philip Ridley and starring Jim Sturgess, Noel Clarke, Clémence Poésy and Eddie Marsan. This was Ridley's first film in fourteen years since 1995's The Passion of Darkly Noon. The film garnered positive reception from critics who praised the performances and dark atmospheric tone that complimented the Faustian plot.


Jamie Morgan (Jim Sturgess) is a lonely, troubled photographer with a large heart-shaped birthmark that covers nearly half of his face. He is still a virgin at 25 because a lifetime of alienation and bullying have left him unable to make friends or attract women. At the photographic studio he shares with his brother and nephew Lee, he meets aspiring model Tia (Clémence Poésy).

A series of horrific murders by Molotov cocktail have been occurring in the neighborhood. Jaime is out doing night photography when he sees a gang of hooded vandals who appear to be wearing realistic reptile masks. Later a witness to one of the murders, a little Asian girl, tells a TV reporter that they weren’t wearing masks; the demonic faces were real.

Jaime and his mother are walking in the neighborhood when they are attacked by the demonic gang. His mother is immolated while Jaime watches helplessly, and he is savagely beaten and left for dead. In despair, he finds his way to the apartment of Papa B (Joseph Mawle) and his assistant Belle (Nikita Mistry), who looks just like the little Asian girl from the TV report. Papa B offers a Faustian bargain: Jaime must fulfill Papa B's desire for chaos with occasional acts of vandalism in return for the removal of his birthmarks. Despite his suspicion that Papa B may be responsible for his mother's death, Jamie consents and they shake hands. Papa B throws gasoline on Jaime & ignites him as a human torch. Jaime miraculously survives and peels away his burned skin to reveal perfect, unblemished skin.

Initially things go well: a chance meeting with Tia leads a newly confident Jamie to the park, where his beloved, deceased father first taught him to use a camera. The deal sours, however, when the Weapons Man arrives: Papa B has reneged on their bargain and Jamie must now commit murder by ripping the heart from a living victim. The Weapons Man tortures Jaime until he agrees to kill a street hustler. His hope for a better life returns after he and Tia become lovers. But later Papa B demands that he kill Tia as well.

At the studio, it is revealed that Tia and Lee (Luke Treadaway) intended to steal his late mother's jewelry. Tia had initially meant only to help Lee gain access to the safe, but she ended up sincerely falling in love with Jamie. During the ensuing struggle Tia is accidentally shot and killed, and Lee is seriously wounded by "She", a gang leader to whom he owed money.

Jamie is pursued by She but he fights back, resulting in the gang leader's death. Jamie spies himself in a mirror and sees that his birthmark has returned, and with it the knowledge that it had been there the entire time, even while he was courting Tia. Jamie confronts Papa B's minions and fights them off, but then is faced with a larger demon, Papa B in his true form. Viewers are left to decide for themselves whether Papa B cheated Jamie by never removing the birthmark, or if much of what transpired was the product of Jamie's imagination.

Jamie staggers outside where a hooded gang member catches him with a Molotov cocktail. As he burns to death, Jamie experiences a vision of his father, who tells him that you can only see the stars in the blackness of the night. Whether this is a memory or a near-death experience is left unclear. Jaime ascend into bright light. The light fades into a field of stars in the night sky, mirroring the words spoken by his father.



The film was shown as part of the 2009 Cork Film Festival.[1] It premiered on 21 May 2010[2] and was released on DVD on 25 May 2010 in the UK.[3] Heartless is part of the Fantasia Festival 2010.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

Heartless received generally positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 75% approval rating, based on 36 reviews collected: 27 "fresh" and 9 "rotten".[5] Gary Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times credited the film to both Jim Sturgess for having "a terrifically watchable presence," and director Philip Ridley for his compelling soundtrack and dark visual direction that "even at its most seemingly outlandish remains intriguing and involving."[6] Joe Leydon of Variety praised the film for the performances of both Sturgess and Marsan and the direction of scenes that give off a morose tone, concluding that: "There's more mood than matter here, but suspenseful atmospherics effectively distract from minor plot holes."[7] Kyle Smith of the New York Post commented on how the Faust theme and sappy conclusion paled in comparison to the "macabre wit" that Ridley displays throughout the film, calling it "an uneasy mixture of B-movie shocks, social commentary and sentimentality that shows a potent imagination at work."[8]

Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club gave the film a "B–", crediting its second-half moral tale and the brief appearances by Marsan and Spall but felt it was hampered by the first half with its "plodding pace, portentous tone, and underdeveloped characters", concluding that, "Ridley is a master of atmosphere and mood, but his fantastical conceits require a strong protagonist who isn’t defined first by his birthmark, then by its absence."[9] Ben Rawson-Jones of Digital Spy felt the film wasted its main cast with a promising plot that was half-heartedly executed with failed horror elements and dialogue that telegraphs the story, saying that "The form and content are a perfect match in Heartless. Both are desperately terrible." He gave the film a 1 out 5 rating.[10] Nick Schager of Slant Magazine criticized Ridley for crafting a Faustian film with an empty-headed protagonist, telegraphed plot elements, mixed moral themes and a muddled third act. He gave the film a 1 out of 4 rating.[11]


  1. ^ "Heartless - Corona Cork Film Festival". www.corkfilmfest.org. 7 November 2009. 
  2. ^ "Exclusive Heartless Featurette Learn about Jim Sturgess & demons". Empire Online. 15 April 2010. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  3. ^ "FanTasia '10: A Bajillion New Posters For 'Heartless'". Dread Central. Retrieved 7 July 2010. 
  4. ^ "Fantasia 2010: Two New Heartless One-Sheets". Dread Central. 7 July 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2010. 
  5. ^ "Heartless (2010)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Goldstein, Gary (10 December 2010). "Movie review: 'Heartless'". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company). Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  7. ^ Leydon, Joe (25 October 2010). "Review: 'Heartless'". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  8. ^ Smith, Kyle (19 November 2010). "Heartless". New York Post (News Corp). Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  9. ^ Rabin, Nathan (18 November 2010). "Review: Heartless". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  10. ^ Rawson-Jones, Ben (19 May 2010). "Heartless". Digital Spy. Hearst Corporation. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  11. ^ Schager, Nick (12 November 2010). "Heartless | Film Review". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 

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