Writer and director Jonathan Cuartas crafts a narrative that is both drawn out and frustrating in “My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To.” The story revolves around a sick family member – in this case Thomas (played by Owen Campbell) – and the rest of the family, Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) and Dwight (Patrick Fugit), doing whatever it takes to take care of him. The twist being the sickness in question is vampirism.
The stripped-down look at the vampire mythos is inventive but ultimately boring. I understand this movie isn’t interested in the decadence or gore found in other vampire movies. The aim here is for something deeper as we explore the lengths a family will go through to take care of their own (or, in Dwight’s case, putting his life on hold indefinitely.) It’s a great concept, but I can’t help but feel this story could be better addressed in a short rather than extending the premise into 90 joyless minutes.
The movie lives and dies by the performances since there are essentially only three characters. Campbell as Thomas is the standout. He’s unlike any other depiction of a vampire. He’s so frail that it’s hard to imaging him being able to “hunt” for his own food source. He’s more like a domesticated cat than a rabid bat. Thomas wants to go outside either to make friends or even go on a road trip, yet he requires the permission of his overbearing sister and reluctant brother. Schram as the alpha of family is another interesting choice.
With the exception of one (personal) kill, she never seems as dangerous as Dwight suggests. Fugit does his best, but his performance is too subtle. Yes, the killing gets to him, and he wants to be more than a caretaker, but there’s a disconnect somewhere between what he does on screen and what’s written on the page. For example, one of the last sequences is meant to be cathartic, but in spite of the long, lingering take, the moment is rushed especially when compared to the blank title card you’re forced to stare at before the credits begin to roll. That said, Fugit does knock it out of the park when he sings the titular song as a coping mechanism.
There are some interesting ideas in “My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To.” It opts out of the typical tropes found in most vampire movies, but the lack of energy/bite, satisfying payoff or cathartic experience leaves much to be desired. My frustration was only further fueled by a lack of exploration of vampirism in the story’s own universe, such as how Thomas even contracted the disease in the first place.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: The Big Comic Page was provided a preview copy of the film and the disc contains no bonus materials other than previews for other films.
My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is available on Blu-ray and DVD August 10.
The writer of this piece is: Laurence Almalvez
Laurence tweets from @IL1511