Heartless. 2009. UK. Written and directed by Phillip Ridley. With Jim Sturgess, Joseph Mawle, Noel Clarke, Clémence Poésy, Nikita Mistry, Timothy Spall. 114 min.
Ashamed and bullied because of the large crimson birthmark on his face, a shy young photographer is lured by a Faustian father figure into a murderous bargain to spread chaos in exchange for physical beauty and a normal life. In his third horror film, Heartless serves as writer-director Philip Ridley’s one-word shorthand for the state of the world. Set in a failing inner-city neighborhood on London’s East End, a devastated landscape familiar to fans of the genre (Candyman, Wolfen), the film continues Ridley’s exploration of themes of familial instability (parents lost to fire), the relentless nature of contemporary violence (a roving, demonic street gang), and repressed sexual desire. Marked at a subliminal level by a kind of “queer magic realism” said to distinguish a number of his stage plays, Heartless can be read, above all, as an allegory on gender difference.