Sunday, January 10, 2016

Heartless (season 1) – review

Directors: Natasha Arthy & Kaspar Munk

First aired: 2014

Contains spoilers

Danish TV series Heartless came somewhat out of leftfield, forming part of the Walter Presents series of Channel 4 world dramas. I had a couple of friends contact me and tell me it was free on demand (thank you both) and the series had a bit of a Hex (2004-2005) feel, though I’d say superior but then I wasn’t keen on Hex.

To start off, however, despite the channel describing it as an 18 certificate Twilight, it really wasn’t and it is not your normal blood sucking vampires. Rather we have energy vampires.

a victim dies
The series starts with, and follows, twins Sofie (Julie Zangenberg) and Sebastian (Sebastian Jessen) and we meet them in a car. They are talking about *getting some* and Sebastian says that it’s been over a year (given the hunger he later displays and the lack of self-control he exhibits here I find that hard to believe). Sofie goes into a club and attracts a man. In a doorway they get it on, her eyes turn black and she starts to suck the life out of him. Sebastian comes along, grabs the man and finishes him off – despite Sofie’s protestations. The victim spontaneously combusts – when these energy vampires kill they do so with style, and it is a neat turnaround on the vampire ashing when they die.

feeding eyes
Sebastian wants to find out what they are and so they head to the Happy Home Orphanage – the place they ran away from when they were twelve. The supervisor tells them that their mother, unnamed at this point, dropped them off as new-borns and suggested she would be back for them. All the supervisor can remember is that their mother had a heart tattoo (which she draws) and she thinks she was a junky. There are some possessions left in the orphanage and these lead them to the Ottman Boarding School, where they decide to enrol to try and get answers.

Nicolaj Kopernikus as Henrik Just
Now this is where you have to suspend disbelief as the story gets patchy. How these two, who were runaways at twelve, manage to get themselves enrolled into a prestigious boarding school is never explained. It is suggested that Sofie killed a pair of students (by immolation) so they could take their places but how she found them is not explored. The headmaster, Henrik Just (Nicolaj Kopernikus), is very aware of the Cursed (as he calls their kind) and so we do wonder why he wouldn’t put two and two together – especially as he knows that the Cursed are drawn to the school. Indeed, such plot doubts continue to raise themselves as we see the two get quickly involved in the school’s fencing classes – as though they had a foggy clue – and suddenly have uniforms etc (the school apparently supply knickers with the school crest on). Come to think about it, how did they get a car and, if stolen, why is it never spotted as such? But, putting all that aside, our vampires have a genuine reason for placing themselves in to school and the story is quite fun if we can suspend disbelief long enough to let them enrol.

a ghost
After that we get a ghost who gives them a clue to their past and their salvation and Just’s daughters who all have telekinetic powers to one degree or another. I won’t spoil the story but will spoil the background because, whilst it is slowly revealed over several episodes, it isn’t too much of a spoil. Going back to the 1600s the house was owned by the Count Ottman (Lior Cohen). He had a wife, Gertrude (Laura Christensen), but was more interested in a peasant girl called Ane (Shelly Levy). He got both of them pregnant but the local priest decided that Ane was a witch and that she, through her Satanic powers, had seduced him.

Ane's execution
The priest had her tortured and eventually she confessed because they promised to spare her child. The priest lied and had the heavily pregnant Ane burnt at the stake as the village, the Count and the Countess watched. The Countess went into labour during the execution and Ane cursed the family line to never know love and wander heartless and filled with eternal hunger. Their hunger is ever present but if they become sexually active with someone the feeding seems to automatically kick in. So all the Cursed are descended from the Ottmans (and some of them must be able to control their hunger enough to reproduce!) Miraculously Ane’s baby survived the pyre and the Just’s are descended from him (and the female line all inherit Ane’s powers). The Cursed can be identified by their eyes when they feed.

sucking the life away
So, there you have it, the premise for our energy vampires is a curse, there is plenty of lust and love thrown in – Sofie and Emilie Just (Julie Christiansen) fall in love and Sebastian finds himself in a triangle between Nadja (Frederikke Dahl Hansen) a fellow student who loves him but he lusts after at best (and treats as a snack at worst) and Josefine (Julie Grundtvig Wester) a member of the kitchen staff who he actually falls in love with and so refuses to kiss as he doesn’t want to suck her (as they term feeding). Throw in some bullying, fascist prefects and you have the basic mix of the series.

stalking the night
And I enjoyed it… despite contrivances, which verged on being show wrecking, I thought the cast did well and the atmosphere was well done. I loved the songs used in the soundtrack, especially the material by Roxy Jules and theme song Don’t Believe the Demons. Unfortunately the score has to reflect the fact that those blooming contrivances were there and needed sorting out. 5.5 out of 10 but I was tempted to give a little higher and better, robust plotting would have had the score climb.

The imdb page is here.


Amber Sikes said...

You wouldn't happen to know the song in the first episode when the are in the car driving up to the school?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I'm sorry, off hand I don't.

Victor Meyer said...

I've been searching everywhere for that song! It's so fucking good!

DreamsDropDead said...

I've been looking for that song too

Unknown said...

They are succubus and incubus. I suppose it could be termed "vampire"... I enjoyed the series though suspending disbelief was hard at some points.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

succubi and incubi are specifically demonic - these are human albeit they feed through sex. They are energy vampires - of that there is no doubt but most succubi and incubi films/books have a vampiric element and traditionally (in an 17th/18th century sense) vampires were bodies possessed by demons and there was certainly - even then - a sexual element (with deceased husbands returning to their wives and the corpse of Peter Plogojowitz showing "wild signs" ie an erection

Lurid Chaos said...

Why didn't they make more than eight episodes? There were many direction it could have went. The story was great and the music was awesome. I am sure it would have a large following now that it is on Netflix.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

different countries have different standard season lengths for series - UK productions (especially BBC ones) are often 6 episodes long. The season was primed for a second series though

Lurid Chaos said...

According to what I have read the seconded season was included within the eight episodes. And the length of a series varies for every show the question was why are they not continuing this show or will there be a season 3?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

That I don't know, but it certainly is open for a second/third season if they chose to do so

Unknown said...

Hi just to let you know. In the first scene in the car where they are tanking about "getting some" you saying Sebastian claims it had byen a year. This is incorrect, he says a week. I dont know if its bad texting or where you got that year from. But just at litteratur heads up from Danmark.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Unknown - thanks for that. The version I watched was an online stream by Channel 4 (a UK TV station). Time has passed but I'm fairly confident - as it was a stand out comment - that the subs said a year. So, notwithstanding the fact that I might have got that wrong, I suspect it was a subtitle error and your heard version of the timeframe makes much more sense :) Many thanks for stopping by.

Sherikana Munni said...

Not sure why they keep being referred to as vampires - they are not. Vampires are undead, have fangs and suck blood. These twins and their like are live humans, cursed not contaminated, and they suck energy or life-force. This makes them succubi, NOT vampires! Liked the series; especially the twin interaction, though would have preferred Sophie to have fallen in love with a male,cannot see the love charm working otherwise due to the yin/yang positive/negative energy thing. Felt very sorry for Sebastian, so wanted to become normal and made it for about 5 seconds! Would like to see a second series where he ditches the grotty Nadja and finds Josefine.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

energy vampires - sorry Sherikana, not wanting to argue but energy vampires have been a staple of the vampire genre for almost two centuries now and the line between succubus and vampires are thin (indeed writers such as Huysmans deliberately blurred the line - le bas). If you want to get technical people can be cursed to be vampires, vampires can be alive (strigoi vii - living vampire - as opposed to strigoi mort - dead vampires) and, even more importantly, succubus/incubus are (traditionally) demons never humans, and thus this cannot be a succubus series but, of course, lines blur and different things are used by different filmmakers/writers and audiences.

Unknown said...

Either way, vampire or demon the twins are more than human. Especially after the necklace, didn't anyone notice their eyes at the very end? Of course with the show no longer Ru ning we will never know just how the removal of the curse will affect them but it was clear they are quite powerful.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Oh they are more than human, certainly. My reading of the very end of the season (spoiler) was that the writers were going to invoke a more traditionally vampiric set of tropes for one of the twins ;)

Alexandra Dovolis said...

Okay soooooo how about someone finds out what that song is?! I want it in my life