Having apparently never read Faust, Jamie (Jim Sturgess) makes a deal with the devil in Heartless, and unsurprisingly winds up on the wrong end of the transaction. The 25-year-old photographer’s motivation for this dumb decision is a large heart-shaped birthmark on the left side of his face, which has resulted in a life of mean-spirited stares and social alienation, a boo-hoo predicament compounded by the loss of his dear old daddy (Timothy Spall, in what amounts to a cameo), who believed Jamie’s facial blemish made him unique, not a freak. While out snapping pics in East London one day, Jamie spies demons in hooded sweatshirts and, a few nights later, finds himself being beaten senseless by them while they burn his mom (Ruth Sheen) alive with Molotov cocktails. Via these vicious street-gang murderers, writer-director Philip Ridley suggests forthcoming social commentary about urban English crime. That potential undercurrent never materializes, though, since after Jamie buys an illegal handgun as a response to his attack, the story ditches any topical concerns in favor of a tête-à-tête between Jamie and an oily, longhaired Beelzebub named Papa B (Joseph Mawle) who proposes an agreement: For a flawless complexion, all Jamie has to do is spray some blasphemous graffiti around town.
Sound too good to be true? Duh. Yet Jamie, idiot that he is, agrees, only to learn—courtesy of a weapons dealer (a game Eddie Marsan)—that in exchange for his new face, he actually has to perform amateur open-heart surgery on an innocent victim, and leave the fresh organ on a church’s front steps. Given that Ridley telegraphs most of what’s to come, this revelation resonates limply, and sets in motion a muddled third act full of characters who are really hallucinations, moral choices absolved by corny plot twists, and mushy sentimental resolutions. Every other room Jamie visits is marked by the color red, soundtrack songs intrude upon the ominous atmosphere with on-the-nose lyrics, and shrieking sound cues unsuccessfully strive to elicit jolt scares.
Sheridan sweats, pants, and emotes with abandon, but Heartless is as witless as its protagonist, whose willingness to make a pact with Satan is so knuckleheaded that his subsequent torment feels deserved. Somewhere in this supernatural morass of loud noises and faux-scary sights seems to lurk a message about accepting yourself. Any coherent thoughts, however, are eventually drowned out by the cast’s overdoing-it, narrative somersaults involving Jamie’s neighbor (Noel Clarke) and model girlfriend (Clémence Poésy), and seriously subpar CG, be it for bursts of hellfire or unholy monsters with third-rate dinosaur faces.