Movie Review (Tribeca Festival 2021): My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

June 12, 2021

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at [email protected] He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

How far would you go to help keep a sick loved one alive? How willing would you be to enable an addicted family member? At what point would you begin to say “Enough is enough” in either of these scenarios and actually act on it? These are just three of the questions explored in writer/director Jonathan Cuartas’ arthouse horror feature My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To
Three siblings live a bleak existence in their suburban home. Thomas (Owen Campbell) is the youngest, and he needs human blood to survive. He isn’t a typical fright-fare vampire, though. He is weak, often barely able to move without the help of his siblings, and totally dependent on them to survive. His brother Dwight (Patrick Fugit) rounds up unsuspecting homeless people under the guise of driving them to a shelter, and then takes them home where sister Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) does the nasty business of draining the victims’ blood into bowls for Thomas to drink. 
The trio have only each other, though teenaged Thomas wants to have friends. Dwight is weary of all the killing, and seeks solace with a prostitute (Katie Preston as Pam), inviting her to run away with him to sunnier climes. Jessie is the realist of the group, or at least the one who is most strongly tied to keeping the family together out of a sense of duty.
This being a horror movie, terrible things happen when Dwight and Thomas try acting on their dreams and Jessie starts taking the murderous duties into her own hands. Cuartas balances the somber family drama and the horror elements wonderfully, imbuing My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To with a gloomy color palette that perfectly matches the increasingly shocking proceedings. The dialogue and characterizations are gripping, and all of the cast members turn in intriguing performances. 
Viewers who enjoy offbeat vampire fare such as The Transfiguration, The Addiction, Nadja, Only Lovers Left Alive, and the like are certain to find plenty to savor with My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To. Like many of those films, this is a slow-burn outing that builds in intensity, and though there is plenty of bloodletting, the emphasis is on meaningful characterization and good storytelling rather than gore.
My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To screens June 12 as part of the Tribeca Festival 2021. It will be available in Theaters and on VOD/Digital Platforms from Dark Sky Films from June 25. Lightbulb Film Distribution will release the film in the U.K. on Digital Download from June 28. 


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