TRIBECA ’21 — ‘My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To’ is a Vampiric and Vulnerable Expose On Unconditional Family Love

Dark Sky Films

Blood is thicker than water: My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To takes this mantra and neatly wraps it around a tale of a tragic family, self-sabotaging their way through survival.

Writer and director Jonathan Cuartas’ debut feature film follows Dwight (Patrick Fugit) and Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) as they slowly struggle to take care of their younger brother (Owen Campbell), who is suffering from an unknown disease of the vampiric kind. Dwight and Jessie go to extreme lengths, kidnapping and draining the blood of anyone they deem expendable — the usual cinematic barrel of homeless people and prostitutes. Dwight’s conscious creeps its way to the surface and begins to unravel, leading to the inevitable collapse of the family unit.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To refuses to answer any questions, providing the audience with limited information surrounding a number of things. We are given no clues as to what happened to their parents, the origin of Owen’s illness or how long the siblings have been murdering innocent people in the name of family love. This is by design, as the lack of information perfectly reflects the familiar, toxic family dynamic. All of the characters are suffocated by one another yet bound for life on the grim quest of bitter existence.

The emotional capabilities and chemistry between the cast are radical and raw in execution. Many of the slow scenes are built upon tension and resentment by both Fugit and Schram. This tension is instantly shattered in the few scenes of actual horrific violence, as the film toys with Dwight’s morality.

Cinematographer Michael Cuartas captures the timeless solemn soul of the script, transferring the characters sadness into a world of colourful displeasure and nostalgia. Visually, the film is beyond beautiful, washed in soft and subtle hues of browns and reds. The eternal aesthetic combined with the expressive soundtrack sow together a dramatic horror film that almost feels like an ode to Lost In Translation and It Follows – which is by no means a bad thing.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is crafted with heart and soul… and blood and guts too. This vampiric tale of resentful family horror is an emotionally intense entry into the realm of horror. A definite watch for any indie cinema fan. 

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is enjoyed a special Tribeca screening on June 12th, and will be available in select cinemas and VOD platforms from Dark Sky Films on June 25th

by Kelsie Dickinson

Kelsie (she/her) is a super gay masters student at The University of Glasgow. She loves slashers, but hates capitalism. Her favourite films are It Follows, Midsommar, Lost In Translation and Ghost World. Find her on Twitter.

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