My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a mouthful of a title. It also brings to mind a certain type of film. Italian giallo are known for their outrageous titles and lurid colors. Despite the fanciful name, the film is a much more somber affair. The movie is about a pair of siblings that care for their sickly brother Thomas (Owen Campbell). Dwight (Patrick Fugit) and Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) have to commit horrible acts of violence in order to keep their brother alive. As the more sensitive Dwight begins to question their actions, tensions begin to mount.
It is not necessary for a film to explain everything. The best ones present questions for audiences to think over and talk about. This leads to a much more engaging experience. My Heart Can’t Beat does not quite do that, however. There are plenty of questions provided by the internationally vague plot. In this case, they are not of the “what about?” or “did you consider?” variety. It is more about the “whys” and “hows”.
This does mean the story gets to focus much more on its emotional center. My Heart Can’t Beat is overflowing with mood and atmosphere. The relationship between the three is a fascinating watch. The grief and moral struggle drives the movie. It is impossible to turn away from what is happening. It is a patiently paced story that deals in themes of family, trust, and forgiveness.
The performances are fantastic. Campbell is captivating as the brother who is so weak we seemingly cannot walk. There is a sadness to him that draws the audience into his plight. Fugit excels showing a wide range of emotions. He is conflicted, caring, and remorseful. Schram may be the most frightening character of all as she commands the screen and the lives of her brothers.
How much a person enjoys My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To will depend on how badly they need answers. The film forgoes a backstory in place of emotion. At times, it is hard to shake the feeling that some scenes are lacking the poignancy they should have. That being said, the plot does so much right, it is impossible to look away.
My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is in theaters, VOD/Digital, and screening at the Chattanooga Film Festival
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