My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): For their younger brother

“My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It Too” is a moody but interesting horror drama film about two sibling toiling on taking care of a sick family member with unspeakable need. While calmly and slowly observing their respective human anguish and exhaustion, the movie also throws several obligatory moments of horror as they continue to supply what their loved one needs, and we come to emphasize with their desperate struggle while also horrified by that.

Patrick Fugit and Ingrid Sophie Schram play Dwight and Jessie, two close siblings who have led a nearly isolated life along with their younger brother Thomas (Owen Campbell) within their current residence. Thomas has been very sick due to some unknown disease, and Dwight and Jessie’s private life has always been spent on taking care of their younger brother. Due to his illness, Thomas has never gone outside while occasionally home-schooled by Jessie, and you will notice how their residence is completely insulated from the surrounding environment with the apparent absence of sunlight.

Yes, as many of you have already guessed, that unknown disease of Thomas made him into a sort of vampire. While he does not have those sharp fangs and cannot be transformed into a bat or whatever, Thomas often needs to be supplied with fresh human blood for maintaining his medical status quo, and Dwight is the one who usually searches for any possible victim to be sacrificed for Thomas. In the opening scene, Dwight lures and then kills a homeless guy he happens to pick up outside at one night, and then Jessie takes care of the rest of the task before Dwight subsequently buries the body somewhere.

While Jesse has been quite accustomed to their bloody job as Thomas’ caring and protective sister, Dwight has recently become more exhausted and frustrated, and he wonders how long he and his sister will have to go on for just keeping their dear younger brother alive as usual. He does care about his younger brother as much as Jessie, and there is a little touching moment when he and Jessie brighten up Thomas’ mood a bit via holiday presents, but he often finds himself wishing to get away from everything having been eating him inside – including his younger brother.

Dwight’s only consolation comes from a local female prostitute he meets from time to time, but he just gets as much as he pays to her. After they have sex in a motel room, he suggests that they should spend more time together just for a little conversation, but she still maintains her professional attitude, and he does not know what to talk with her except vaguely expressing his longtime yearning for escape.

In the meantime, the situation becomes a little more tense as conflicts begin to grow among Dwight and his two siblings. While he has appreciated how much his older siblings have taken care of him, Thomas becomes more interested in the world outside just like any other boy at his age, and he is naturally frustrated as being blocked by not only his older siblings but also his own medical condition. When Dwight miserably fails to get their latest victim, Jessie decides to take care of the situation for herself, and he is understandably repulsed by the outcome of her following action.

Firmly and patiently focusing on the relationship dynamics among its three main characters, the screenplay by director/writer Jonathan Cuartas accumulates the emotional tension around them bit by bit. Cinematographer Michael Cuartas, who is also Cuartas’ brother, shot the movie in the screen ratio of 1.33:1, and that further emphasizes the stuffy aspects of the three main characters’ insulated domestic environment. Mostly sticking to its static position, the camera often phlegmatically regards them and their quiet barren indoor spaces, and the resulting stark atmosphere on the screen is further enhanced by the ambient score by Andrew Rease Shaw.

While the last act of the movie loses some of narrative momentum, the three main performers keep holding the film together as before. Fugit, who also participated in the production of the film, gradually earns our sympathy as embodying many years of frustration and anxiety behind his character’s weary appearance, and his good performance reminds me again of how much he has been matured as a good adult actor after his adolescent breakout turn in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” (2000). On the opposite position, Schram is equally good in her frigid character’s singled-minded devotion to Thomas, and she and Fugit are believable as a sister and a brother who have known and understood well each other as bounded by their common domestic work. As another crucial part of the story, Owen Campbell is somehow poignant despite what his character should do for survival, and he is particularly good when his character tentatively approaches to an unexpected visitor to his house later in the story.

By the way, I happened to watch the movie not along after watching “Anything for Jackson” (2020), which is also about two ordinary people willing to commit something atrocious for their loved one. Although the latter is more morbid and humorous in comparison, I think “My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It Too” and “Anything for Jackson” can make a nice double feature show considering their thematical overlap, and I recommend you to try that someday if you simply want to watch a couple of good horror films at night.

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