Jonathan Cuartas’ ‘My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To’ (2021): Slow Pace Muddies an Otherwise Fascinating Film – Movie Review

For many people, it’s a terrifying thought to be burdened by a sick family member. For the two siblings in Writer/Director Jonathan Cuartas’ My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To, things are even more complicated: their brother is a vampire.


Dwight (Patrick Fugit: Dead Birds 2004 – read our review here) prowls the streets after dark. He searches each night for the lonely and forlorn, looking for people who won’t be missed. Dwight takes no joy in this, but he needs their blood. Without fresh human blood, his fragile young brother, Thomas (Owen Campbell: Depraved 2019 – read our review here), cannot survive. Each death takes a larger toll, the burden of his crimes weighing heavier each time, threatening to crack his spirit. But Thomas and his sister, Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram: Phantom Thread 2017), are all the family Dwight has left, and as a fiercely private and close-knit family unit, they depend on him and the rituals they’ve learned in order to keep their secret. But while Dwight yearns for another life, Jessie needs them to stay together. And always, the boy must feed.

There is a lot to love about My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You tell It To. While the word “vampire” is never uttered, it’s clear that Thomas is some kind of monster. I love the way that his difference was never glorified or played up like a typical horror film. Thomas was treated much like any other needy family member that needed to be fed, bathed, and entertained. He just requires a little more sacrifice from his siblings than most.

Patrick Fugit as Dwight gives such a brilliant performance. He is torn apart as he struggles between keeping his family together and holding on to his humanity. Ingrid Sophie Schram does a great job as well as the single-minded, if somber, Jessie. Owen Campbell is a childlike, needy, and strangely gentle vampire. It’s a new and interesting spin.

But where this take on vampirism as just another type of family burden is fresh and new, it also comes off a little bit too slow. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a film that could have gone somewhere, but in the end, never really does. This is, however, Cuartas’ first feature-length film, so I am anxious to see what he has to offer up in the future. This is an impressive start to his career!

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is available at the above link, in select theaters, and on VOD and Digital on June 25, 2021.

About Christine Burnham

When not writing, Christine Burnham is watching TV, Horror films, reading, cooking, and spending time with her menagerie of animals.

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