HEARTLESS "Grrr! They're all out of Fresca! Again!"

DARK, SCARY, AND TWISTED, Heartless is a horror film in violence and name, but what British director Philip Ridley (The Reflecting Skin) doesn't do is follow the standard path to B-movie genre flick. There are U-turns and serpentine twists in this psychological roadmap of young East Londoner Jamie's (Jim Sturgess) despair over the large, red, heart-shaped birthmark on his face.

Kids laugh at Jamie, while women gasp in horror—though it should be noted that actor Jim Sturgess is gorgeous, and since no amount of red makeup could hide this very obvious fact, one must suspend one's aesthetic disbelief. Jamie is lonely and withdrawn, and his only connections with the world are through his camera lens and with his loving mother. When a mysterious gang of shrieking, hood-wearing hooligans begins to wreak violence in Jamie's grimy neighborhood, he becomes increasingly convinced of their evil intentions—and his suspicions are confirmed when they Molotov cocktail his mother to death. So Jamie turns to a Faustian stranger, Papa B (Joseph Mawle), striking up a devil of a deal in order to erase his birthmark, under the thinnest excuse that his mother would've wanted that. There are, natch, high prices to be paid.

Heartless does a lot right (demonic screeching! Molotov cocktail throwing!), but there's also a lot of muddle. If, like your favorite sweater, you can overlook how it's overstretched and full of holes, then Heartless succeeds. Even while I bristled at the absurd plot contrivances and the dumb lengths Jamie would go to in order look "pretty," I kept rooting for the film—the demons are scary, the devil-dancing premise is tested and true, and it's steeped in moody atmosphere.