Heartless -- Film Review

Culty horror flick shoots for dark metaphors but winds up with unintentional comedy.

NEW YORK — A horror fable that stretches its hallucinatory inventions past the breaking point and into laughability, Heartless offers some startling moments but not nearly enough to fulfill the filmmaker's obvious ambition.

Box office prospects are bleak in its limited release, and video distributors should pray for cult attention.

Jim Sturgess is almost endearing as a boy-man who never overcame the playground taunts provoked by a birthmark covering half his face. In the picture's first half, the character's emotional anguish and Sturgess's skittish performance resonate effectively with the grim, crime-stalked streets of a London writer/director Philip Ridley imagines, with visual flair, as practically hellish.

Frequent expressions of despair in the script contribute to an end-of-times moodiness that promises metaphor-rich psychodrama. Then Ridley launches into a Faustian storyline that is both too straightforward and ludicrous in its dream-like logic. The more symbolic things become, with strange characters like a young Indian girl obviously invented by Sturgess' subconscious, the harder the story is to take seriously.

Ridley starts copping too liberally (and clumsily) from David Lynch, trying to wring terror from eccentricity. Sturgess plays it straight enough to make third-act violence almost compelling. By the time disembodied heads start talking, however, only the most dedicated genre fans will still be with him.

Opens: Friday, November 18 (IFC)
Production companies: CinemaNX, Matador Pictures, Framestone.
Cast: Jim Sturgess, Clémence Poésy, Noel Clarke, Joseph Mawle, Eddie Marsan, Luke Treadaway, Timothy Spall, Ruth Sheen
Director/screenwriter: Philip Ridley
Producers: Richard Raymond, Pippa Cross
Executive producers: Steve Christian, Steve Norris, Marc Samuelson, Nigel Thomas, Charlotte Walls
Director of photography: Matt Gray
Production designer: Ricky Eyres
Music: David Julyan
Costume designer: Jo Thompson
Editors: Chris Gill, Paul Knight
No rating, 113 minutes