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My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To Film Review


Directed by: Jonathan Cuartas

Written by: Jonathan Cuartas

Starring: Patrick Fugit, Owen Campbell, Ingrid Sophie Schram


For a minute, just sit back and think about this title: My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To. What do you think? Perhaps, a romantic saga in the vein of Romeo and Juliet? Or a cheesy boy-meets-girl love story complete with the usual melodramatic trappings? Let’s move on and take a look at the trailer. The one I saw came with quotes like, “A gem of a horror film.” Indeed, the way the trailer is edited leads you to expect a creepy monster film (thank god, I watched it after seeing the movie). I do not blame the makers and the marketing team for selling this movie as a horror film. How many of you would buy the tickets or rent this film online if you got to know that it’s an understated drama dealing with familial sacrifice? Not many, I believe. This “false marketing” proves what a sad reality we live in where people are expected to get excited over a monotonous horror affair than a thought-provoking narrative.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is an intense, intelligent, and insightful film that takes a known concept and transports it into a peculiar territory. Dwight (Patrick Fugit), Thomas (Owen Campbell), and Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) are siblings. Among this trio, Dwight and Jessie act like normal human beings. She is a waitress, and he…hunts. What he hunts for is a different thing. But whatever these two do, they do it for Thomas. Thomas is like a little kid: He has a puppy face, a naive nature, and a gentle voice. He even throws plates for tantrums. However, where other kids would generally prefer milk, Thomas would like his drink to be red in color, please. That is, he gulps down a glass full of blood. Through an alternative lens, one could place Dwight and Jessie as parents and Thomas as the child. Jessie cooks, Dwight searches for food, and Thomas reaps the comforts. The water flows in this direction until Dwight begins to question his way of living. Doubt creeps in, and trouble starts brewing.

Jonathan Cuartas’ movie operates on a low pitch. An act of violence is as thrilling as the view where the three characters sit down to consume dinner. Potential victims are scouted and lured to the house or inside the car, where they breathe their last. These victims are forlorn individuals without relatives or a roof on their heads. A man says he had been abandoned by someone who had promised to help him after coming to the country (there is a lesson here about not trusting strangers). It’s not like Dwight, who stays with his family exactly, feels at home in his house. He wants to escape from his noxious routine and go somewhere. Anywhere. Thomas, too, wants to go outside and make friends. The men are glued to their position by Jessie. She has a commanding presence that reduces everyone around her to the level of pawns. Unsurprisingly, at the dining table, she sits in the middle. Ideally, someone like Thomas is categorized as a devil, but humans do far more damage in this film. If you want to catch a glimpse of evil, look at Jessie’s face when a customer suggests she smile.

How did this family come to be? How could two human beings have a sibling like Thomas? Who were their parents? Were they humans or monsters or a mix of both species? The film never answers these queries. It uses the siblings to make a profound statement on the workings of the family. How they are not always your biggest strength, but they could also turn into an obstruction blocking your development. When Dwight tries to leave his home behind, he drives up to a point before making a U-turn back to his habitation. It’s as if a mysterious force is pulling him back, and if he wants to escape, he has to cut off a rope that binds him to the place.

I didn’t know My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To had made its way into my, well, heart until I saw a window cover being torn down to allow the passage of light. Suddenly, I started to feel for Thomas and this entire household. The bright light made me realize how I had not really “seen” any sunshine up to that point. The following image of a man standing with a sense of freedom and pain sent waters running down my eyes. It’s a powerful moment that leaves you satisfied with a tinge of ache. It’s something you won’t forget for weeks or probably months. If that’s not magic, then what is?

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To will be available on Digital Download from 28th June



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