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Saturday, June 12, 2021

[Tribeca Review] Gloomy ‘My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To’ Contemplates Family Bonds

In many ways, writer/director Jonathan Cuartas‘s feature debut feels like a spiritual sibling to We Are What We Are. Both offer meditative, brooding depictions of isolated families so removed from the rest of the world. Both films see their characters committing unspeakable acts in the name of family bonds. Even the lengthy titles feel similar. But, while they exist within the same niche corner of the genre space, Cuartas delivers a unique and thoughtful exploration of family dysfunction more firmly rooted in realism. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To contemplates codependency’s haunting and destructive power.

Dwight (Patrick Fugit) cruises the empty streets late at night until he comes across a homeless man. He offers a ride to safety, only instead he attacks the man and brings him home. Dwight’s sister Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) ruthlessly slits the man’s throat over a bucket, collecting the precious liquid that spills. Dwight can barely stomach the act, but the murder is committed out of necessity; their sickly younger brother Thomas (Owen Campbell, Super Dark Times) needs fresh blood to survive. The further they push themselves to feed Thomas, the more punishing it becomes for Dwight and Jessie, physically and emotionally. Their precarious house of cards threatens to unravel.

The word vampire is never uttered, and nothing about Thomas’s frail condition presents the conventional horror movie bloodsucker. He’s deathly allergic to the sun, and only blood sustains him, but it’s not a life of functional health. Thomas is prone to seizures and can’t walk far independently, often leaning on walls or furniture for support. How his condition came about or what happened to the siblings’ parents aren’t questions Cuartas is interested in answering.

Instead, Cuartas’s debut drops us far into the family’s plight. It’s more interested in examining their present, with their mental state on the cusp of unraveling. Told in 4:3 aspect ratio, this is an intimate portrayal of familial obligation and codependency. Cuartas favors restraint in telling this family’s plight; it’s an emotionally driven depiction carried by the actors’ performances.

With so much unspoken about the family’s past, Fugit, Schram, and Campbell convey the siblings’ history and connection. Fugit’s steely yet layered portrayal of Dwight engenders him well to the audience. Beneath the quiet surface is an abyss of sorrow, desperation, and a faint glimmer of hope for a normal life. It helps that Dwight is the most morally pure of the trio. The protective nature of Schram’s Jessie forces her to become rigidly practical, removing any hesitation on her part to kill for the sake of her family. That responsibility also breeds resentment. Campbell infuses Thomas with childlike innocence, both rebellious and tragically lonely.

It’s a descriptor that applies to the entire feature; tragic and lonely. Cuartas elicits powerful performances from his leads, and it’s their complex dynamics and emotions that carry a quiet little film without much in the way of a story. It’s perhaps a little too languidly paced, but it fully explores every facet of familial duty that retains interest regardless. Through bursts of visceral violence and bloodletting, Cuartas uses horror to bolster the drama. It’s an entire meditative, brooding feature that centers on the question of how far you would go in the name of family. Cuartas captures that in the form of personal sacrifice and ruination, in the most bittersweet and devastating way.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To releases in theaters and VOD on June 25.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3669213/tribeca-review-gloomy-heart-cant-beat-unless-tell-contemplates-family-bonds/

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