Relationships and break-ups are topics already thoroughly dissected in the world of storytelling, so to find a new angle, one that both surprises and captivates, you have to come up with something truly special. In Haukur Björgvinsson’s sci-fi short Heartless, all seems normal between a young couple (Anna and Gunnar), as they frolic in a field and confess their love for one another, until a giant egg appears in the skyline and we start to get a sense that things are not a rosy as they initially seemed.
With the arrival of that huge ovoid, the science-fiction element of Björgvinsson’s story is announced and in the following scene, as the couple meet with Anna’s parents, we are introduced to the emotional core of the narrative. Despite this lovestruck pair obviously wanting to remain together, society dictates that after seven years they will be assigned a new partner, at a very formal “raffle” ceremony. If they want to stay together, the pair have to enter “the egg” for the next seven years and if they don’t accept their new relationship, then again, they’re sent to that ominous egg. As I’m sure you can already sense – things do not go well for Anna and Gunnar.
“We repeat the same rituals with different people time after time”
Part folk horror and part high-concept science-fiction, despite its elevated premise, the origins of Björgvinsson’s narrative were very much grounded in reality. Explaining that his storyline was based around “the idea of love and what happens when it ends”, the director admits he was fascinated by the “performance aspect” of relationships and “how we repeat the same rituals with different people time after time”. As is often the case with these character driven sci-fi pieces (the successful ones anyway), Heartless works because of its relatability. The scenario is extreme, but strip that away and what you’re left with is a simple tale of heartbreak and the different ways we deal with it – themes we should all be able to connect with.
Another similarity Heartless shares with sci-fi films of the same ilk is its impressive world-building and how it’s brought to life on screen. Aiming to rely on special effects “as little as possible”, Björgvinsson sets out to create a “cold and unforgiving” dystopian world through the casting, costumes, photography and lighting. Hiring actors where he saw a shimmer of pain behind their eyes, the director and his team didn’t have a budget to have costumes custom made, so achieved the monotone, oppressive look by dressing his actor in clothing of shades of blue, creating a uniformed look. With everything in place in front of the camera, the filmmaker and his DP Ásgrímur Guðbjartsson completed the look by shooting with “very sharp” lenses, making their cruel on-screen world feel even harsher.
Having first seen Heartless early in 2022, it was a film the S/W team instantly wanted on our platform. Sci-fi shorts of this quality are a hard find and with the passion for the genre online, you’d hope Björgvinsson’s film will find a passionate, appreciative audience within the internet communities. Those who love Heartless as much as we do at S/W HQ, will be happy to hear its director already has a series of new projects in the works, including a scripted anthology series titled Wastelands – set in the Highlands of Iceland – and two feature film projects.