Channelling the art-house style of Let The Right One In over say, the sexiness of Interview With The Vampire is My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To. Feeling less like a vampire film and more like a family drama concentrating on the impact a life-threatening illness can take, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a sombre affair and one that may very well split audiences.
Dwight (Patrick Fugit) and Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) have cared for their sickly brother Thomas (Owen Campbell) all of his adult life. Thomas, played with a child like innocence by Campbell, is frail beyond his years – his movement resembling that of a person near the end of their life. What is specifically debilitating him is never answered, other than to the point that his siblings must care for him 24/7 and that his only form of sustenance comes in the shapde of fresh blood. Jessie works at the local diner and home schools Thomas in between shifts. Dwight meanwhile, must harvest the blood to keep his younger brother alive, and does so by murdering people who no one will apparently miss – the homeless and sex workers. The three struggle through their daily routine. Jessie runs a tight ship and doesn’t allow for mistakes, while Thomas yearns for any sort of happiness and is desperate to see what is beyond his boarded-up windows, and Dwight ultimately wants it all to end – dreaming for a life away from all of this.
In his first full length feature, director Jonathan Cuartas has crafted a film that is as bleak as it is beautiful. Haunting in its depiction of illness and how it can affect a family. While vampirism is used throughout the film to signify Thomas’ condition, it could also be argued that Cuartas is using this as a metaphor for cancer. Much like the excellent Relic depicted dementia in the form of a demonic possession, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To shows the heavy toll a debilitating disease has not only on the victim but also on those who must care for them. It is Patrick Fugit who gives the strongest performance here. His portrayal of Dwight is one filled with anguish, as his life consists of dulling his own pain to ensure his brother survives. It’s a sorrowful, almost pitiful life and one that is played excellently by Fugit.
While the film is a mere one hour 30 minutes long, it may feel like a slog for audiences seeking something with a little more of that popcorn punch. There is little in the way of action, outside of some well-staged scenes where Dwight must wrestle his hostage before draining their blood from them. And while vampire films may often walk the line of sexy and stylish, that is not the case here. In fact, there is no romanticism at play at all and My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To rather grimly depicts the toll it takes on this small family. By the end though, there is a rather more upbeat tone. And in its final act it gives both the characters, and the audience, hope that something better awaits all of us.
My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is available on Digital Download from 28 June.