My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is rife with atmosphere and doom, a film that sticks to its deliberate pacing to provide us with a glance at the struggles of sacrificing everything for family. But, unfortunately, at times, it keeps its cards too close to its chest and struggles to let the audience in.
Siblings Dwight (Patrick Fugit) and Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) put all their energy into keeping their little brother Thomas (Owen Campbell) alive. But he craves something that becomes ever more dangerous for them to acquire.
Perhaps it is because so much of My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To reminds me of the fantastic Rose: A Love Story. A film of people caught in an impossible situation and are just doing their best to get by, even if that means by any means necessary. The context is hidden from us, but from a narrative viewpoint, it makes sense as the layers are slowly revealed to the audience. Here we are given the circumstances as facts, yet questions continually rise in your head about what we see as there hasn’t quite been enough effort in the script to inform us. You are left with a feeling of seeing something like this before. It just isn’t finessed, which is a shame, as there is something more here. If we are just given a smidgen extra, we could care even more for these characters.
Why would Dwight and Jessie be resorting to this action to get what they need? Surely there would be simpler ways to get it. Other films of this ilk would at least give us something to distract from these questions. Sadly for My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To, there are just too many silent motionless moments for us to remain as engaged as it needs us to. For a film going at such a pedestrian pace, the hooks need to be far stronger, and it falters significantly here.
That said, the performances from Patrick Fugit and Ingrid Sophie Schram carry the film to any success that it gets. Without the duo, the film would severely struggle to engage us. Fugit’s Dwight is at his wit’s end and just can’t take it anymore. He is worn down emotionally and physically from the acts that he is carrying out to keep his brother alive, and it is only a matter of time before he gives way. Fugit’s performance grips you. You want him to bolt for the hills and getaway, but in doing so, that would heartbreakingly leave Jessie to do all the work, and as we see, that isn’t the easiest thing to do. He is heavy for a reason.
Schram anchors the film so well. She equally wants to run but has long accepted that this is the situation she is stuck with, for better or worse. Her determined personality keeps both her brothers to their agenda and as she has taken the matriarch role. Not only is the glue, but the financial support to keep their meagre existence going. However, we know she too is about to crack, and as Schram’s performance shows, the psychological pressure can be devastating.
Writer/director Jonathan Cuartas uses the horror aspect of the film to instead focus on the pressures of how siblings stay together after the loss of parental support. Do they work it out, or do they crumble, and if they hang on, is it by a thread as you would expect? We are given no backstory or information as to why Thomas is the way he is. We just know that this has presumably been going on for a long time. Minor strains in the sibling’s relationship grow and become massive and unbearable between the trio. Contempt grows between them, Dwight for having to do the dirty work and stay behind, Jessie. Who is running on fumes due to homeschooling Thomas, helping sort the food and working a job and finally with Thomas, who just wants to live a normal life that he knows he can never have.
We are in for a horrible crash course of an interaction, and Cuartas provides us with a decent amount of suspense as we try to guess what will be the trigger that will set this very unstable house of cards tumbling down. The psychological restriction on these three young people is exhausting, and you feel that in their story. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To keeps things as bleak as it can throughout, and with a film filled with sparse moments, it somehow remains an interesting piece. Yet you can never shrug the feeling that something is missing to help elevate the movie.
My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To will be available on Digital Download from 28th June.
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