Jim Sturgess and Joseph Mawle in Philip Ridley's HeartlessHeartless is a dark tale of love, betrayal, faith, sin and chaos – but it is so much more than that. The Toronto After Dark Film Festival hosted the Toronto premiere of director Philip Ridley’s return to the screen after a 14-year hiatus. His previous films, The Passion of Darkly Noon and The Reflecting Skin, were critical successes and Ridley proves his absence did not weaken his remarkable abilities in the slightest.

Jamie Morgan (Jim Sturgess) was born with a disfiguring, heart-shaped birthmark across his face, making him an outcast in his rough East London neighbourhood. While wandering abandoned yards and empty streets taking photographs of the ruin, Jamie comes across a gang of thugs responsible for recent monstrous crimes. However, as his curiosity thrusts him closer to the danger, Jamie discovers the perpetrators are something more than human. He is eventually led into a Faustian deal that grants his deepest desire, but also sees him become a part of the terrifying chaos around him. The world Jamie thought was so meaningless and ugly is suddenly made important and beautiful, but the cost of such a transformation may prove too much for him in the end.

Ridley has an apt for dark and unusual. He manages to take a story with a relatively simple premise and create a narrative that continues to give from the opening to closing credits. The interpretations of the film and specific scenes in it are numerous. In discussion after the film, there were a variety of theories about the overall meaning of the film, the origins of certain characters, and even the reality of particular scenes. Ridley expertly constructed a film that promotes additional thought long after the houselights return.

A large part of what makes the film so captivating is the performances. Sturgess first charmed audiences in 2007’s Across the Universe, only to prove his dramatic depth in Fifty Dead Men Walking a year later. Here, his portrayal of a desperate young man presented with a seemingly simple solution to all his problems is riveting. Sturgess shines as Jamie struggles with the consequences of his actions and realizations about those around him. The deep emotions he experiences appear entirely genuine, making it is easy to feel for his character as he tries to regain control. Joseph Mawle’s depiction of the ambiguous Papa B is flawless, as his physical appearance and persuasive attitude achieve just the right effect. Additionally, Eddie Marsan’s cameo is very memorable as he injects an ample dose of humour into an otherwise bleak presentation.

The soundtrack is also a great contributor to the film’s impression. With lyrics composed by Ridley, the music acts as secondary dialogue foretelling the future of the characters and the film. As one song repeats “it’s about to get a lot darker,” it’s obvious nothing good is about to follow. On the other hand, some foreshadowing is simply placed in the dialogue; as when Jamie’s friend quotes Rainer Maria Rilke: “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror.” Thus Jamie’s wish cannot have a positive outcome.

The messages in the film are not subtle and their validity can be debated; but Ridley’s transcendent conveyance of all the ideas in the movie is undeniable.

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