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My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To


‘…harrowing, beautiful and curious, Cuartas’s film offers up a simple story that carries considerable metaphorical heft…’

Yikes! Whether you consider it to be a horror film or not, writer/director Jonathan Cuartas brings a feral, ragged edge to this bleak, compelling domestic drama, so much so that a little warning is required. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To isn’t particularly gory or violent for the horror genre, it’s a particularly intense and upsetting film by dint of theme and content; forget about exploding heads and ghosties, it’s a far classier piece of work than that, but it’s still one freaky trip.

Landing somewhere between Ari Aster and Brandon Cronenberg, Cuartas sets out his stall in fifty shades of dread. We’re looking at some kind of modern, nuclear family; Dwight (Patrick Fugit) and Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) are brother and sister, and have responsibility for sibling Thomas (Owen Campbell). For reasons not fully explained, Thomas needs blood, and the older brother and sister supply it by locating and murdering those who they deem sufficiently remote from society that their presence will not be missed. Despite their valiant efforts, Thomas isn’t happy and wants to make friends of his own, triggering a domino run of unhappy events that lead to a stark conclusion best kept under wraps for now.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To could be classified as a vampire story a la George A. Romero’s Martin, or could be compared to the Argentinian horror We Are What We Are. But Cuartas brings something fresh to the party via the intensity of his approach, with rigid, formal framing and remarkable performances from the cast. Campbell has an unearthly quality that’s hard to pin down, but Fugit really is a revelation. If you recognise the name, it’s from his starring role in Almost Famous, but Fugit is clearly not a man to rest on past laurels; he’s utterly compelling as an unlikely patriarch, and you feel there are no depths that Dwight won’t go to in order to preserve his family.

In another, alternate universe, I’d be stumbling out into the sunlight of the Tribeca film festival weak at the knees from this gruelling, exhausting, absorbing film; held over from the 2020 programme, the film drops onto streaming next week and is recommended for those seeking the cutting edge in out-there cinema. Harrowing, beautiful and curious, Cuartas’ film offers up a simple story that carries considerable metaphorical heft. Like Dwight, we’re seeking to protect those we love at the expense of those we don’t, and that simple equation fuels the nightmare scenario described here.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is out on Digital Download in the US and via Lightbulb Film Distibution in the UK from June 28th 2021.

Thanks to Sapkar Pr and Tribeca Film Festival for advanced access to this film.


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  1. If my brother was a vampire, I’d kill him, not some poor innocents. And he’d do the same for me if the tables were turned.

    That’s what a GOOD family does….

    • I’d go further and be prepared to kill you whether you were a vampire or not. I wouldn’t even hang around to find out. You can’t say fairer than that.

        • Sigh. Well, Alex has been very passive aggressive of late….I could smash several skulls for the price of one…

          • You didn’t have a happy child hood, did you? Having to invent this imaginary fellow “Alex”. But don’t worry, this is a judgement free zone. Just because you’re a crazed, psychopathic lunatic doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings too.

            So tell me, how many other “friends” do you have? Do you want to crush their skulls too?

              • Oh please, you can bunty all you want, but that won’t distract me. I’m here to dig into the root cause of all your problems and solve them.

                I suspect kilts and blue bottoms are going to play a bigger part than you realize!

                  • Well, in my considered opinion, you’re addicted to movies and it has turned your brain. Not the best if you want to have a successful life, but if all you want out of life is to be an extra in a movie, then you’re probably on the road to success even as we speak.

                    • And there’s room on my horse for two. If you watch all the films I’ve written about, not too late for you to catch up…

                    • Phhhhttt, I don’t even watch 1% of the movies you review.
                      I just try to come up with creative ways of not saying “I will watch this over your dead body” without sounding like a buntY.

    • I guess the purpose of a review like this is to warn of strong meat, but also to encourage, because the acting is brilliant. But gentle sould should steer clear…

      • Oh it’s not that, I don’t mind buckets of blood, I just think the premise is bonkers. The younger brother seems to be the problem, and the other 2 are killing people off on his behalf, yet he’s an ingrate. It would make more sense to kill off the little brother in that case and the other 2 go and have a nice time not killing people off. But that’s why I don’t make movies I guess.

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