• Maxwell J.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (CFF) Pulses In Dark Horror Drama

Updated: Dec 26, 2021

Title: My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

First Wide Release: February 24, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)

Director: Jonathan Cuartas

Writer: Jonathan Cuartas

Runtime: 90 Minutes

Starring: Patrick Fugit, Ingrid Sophie Schram, Owen Campbell

Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here


This film’s review was written after its screening in the Chattanooga Film Festival 2021.


Dwight (Patrick Fugit) and Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) revolve their lives around taking care of their younger brother Thomas (Owen Campbell) who has a mysterious illness that requires him to consume human blood. Jessie works at a diner where she earns money and scopes out potential victims for Dwight to kill and prepare for Thomas. While they all very much love each other, no one is happy with their state of affairs, and they find their small family buckling under the pressure of their circumstances. Will they come together or be torn apart by their differences?


A heartbreaking and raw film, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is slow-burn family horror that will unnerve you.

Gritty, powerful, and uncomfortable, there’s something deeply tragic about the horror in My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To. It’s very clear that the three siblings all have very different wants and needs. Jessie wants to keep the family together at all costs, Dwight wants to end his miserable job of killing to sustain Thomas, and Thomas just wants a friend and to be a normal kid. Much of what happens feels pointless in a way, no matter what good or bad choice anyone in the family makes, it will inevitably hurt them in the long run. But they can’t stop themselves. These dynamics are at odds with each other and survival, and it is interesting to see who wins out and why.


Dressed in a dreary, run-down aesthetic, the atmosphere feels as heavy as the drama and tension of the story. From beat up motel rooms, plain diners, and unassuming pickup trucks, every place in My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To adds to the hopeless feeling it emanates. The cast adds to this by showing a certain vulnerability that makes their situation even more devastating.

Ultimately, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a quiet examination on the horrors of codependency. Its central premise explains that Thomas’s survival depends on the blood of others, and that he particularly needs Jessie and Dwight to find him more to consume. In a sense, Thomas’s need for care is sucking the life and blood out of them manifests both metaphorically and physically. Not only does this work thematically to advance the plot but it mimics the experience of how long-term illness can wear down entire families. Dwight and Jessie react differently to this. Dwight yearns to leave and start fresh while Jessie does everything in her power to keep the family together. It’s heartbreaking because beyond the immediate horror of the story there’s real life examples of families struggling similarly.


It’s a heavy film and it won’t be for everyone. It certainly isn’t one that I can recommend to just anyone, but it is a heartbreaking horror drama with great performances. It does get stuck in the mire a bit and it can drag especially in the second act. It won’t be enough for those who want a bloodbath, nor will it satisfy those wanting a faster pace and more action. Altogether it’s a solid film that creeps under the skin and never quite leaves you.

A steady film with plenty of uncomfortable moments, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To excels at building strong characters and understated horror. It is well-crafted film with a dirty sort of feel to it that makes it more grounded than a lot of horror released these days. Enjoyable enough as a film, I’m not certain if I would revisit it in the future. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth a watch, especially if it’s picked up by a streaming giant by the end of the year. Your heart will certainly beat from the tension and fear pulsing from this quiet horror drama.


Overall Score? 6/10

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