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The 2020 Vampire Tale My Heart Can't Beat Unless You Tell It To Is a Poignant Horror Film You Might Have Missed

One of the most hauntingly intimate horror films of the last five years is this tightly focused vampire story.

By Matthew Jackson
My Heart Can't Beat Unless You Tell It To

Welcome to Hidden Horrors of Peacocka monthly column spotlighting off-the-beaten-path scary movies available to watch right now on NBCUniversal's streaming service. From cult classics to forgotten sequels to indie gems you've maybe never heard of, we've got you covered. 

This month, we're taking a look at a beautiful little vampire film released just a few years ago: My Heart Can't Beat Unless You Tell It To.

There are a lot of metaphorical angles you can take when telling a vampire story, but the most frequently used, and arguably the most potent, is the exploration of the vampire as outsider. The creature's way of life creates a sort of automatic remove from the rest of humanity, no matter how much the vampire in question might long to return to the world of the warm-blooded, and delving deep into that remove has been fodder for great stories for decades. 

Then, of course, there are some stories that go a step further, examining not just the outsider status of the vampire themselves, but the outsider status of the people swept into the vampire's orbit. Stories like Let The Right One In excel at this kind of narrative, delivering equal parts tragedy and triumph as they probe what happens to people who are pulled into a similar life by association with a vampire, what it does to their hearts and minds, and how they survive...or don't. 

Which brings us to this month's Hidden Horrors of Peacock selection: The haunting, beautifully made 2020 film My Heart Can't Beat Unless You Tell It To. Released onto the festival circuit back in the early days of the pandemic, it quickly gained a following among horror fans looking for a different kind of vampire story, and now it's floating around on streaming for everyone to see. If you love vampire stories, and you're looking for one you've perhaps never seen before, head over to Peacock and give this one a try. It just might move and shake you in ways you're not expecting. 

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Written and directed by Jonathan Cuartas, the film merges the vampire legend with the story of a family struggling to exist in a world that seems stacked against them. Dwight (Patrick Fugit) and his sister Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) work low-income jobs to support themselves, clinging to whatever connections they can find out in the world, while also pursuing another dark purpose. Dwight and Jessie have to feed themselves, of course, but they also have to feed Thomas (Owen Campbell), their shut-in brother who needs human blood to survive. So, they must go out and hunt for victims to sustain their sibling, a task that removes them even further from the rest of the world. 

Shot with a beautiful, often warm eye that contrasts with the coldness of huge swaths of the story, Cuartas' film often focuses much more on the family drama of this story than the overt horror elements. When the horror does start to close in, it does so gradually, with a focus on the kind of everyday suspense that upsets the delicate balance of the three siblings' lives. That suspense, delicate and intricately woven into the story, usually focuses on a member of the family trying to be something they're not, whether it's Dwight's attempts to forge a real connection with a local sex worker, or Thomas' increasingly desperate desire to play with the children he hears walking past the house every day. 

What makes the film so successful, and so chilling even as it's sometimes strangely heartwarming, is the way Cuartas manages to stage the tension between what is and what could be. It all feels so remarkably plausible, so human -- something helped along by the three excellent performances at the center of the story -- that your heart begins to ache watching the smallest gestures of rebellion and reconciliation playing out onscreen. It's a remarkably deft balance of tones and textures, and it will leave you thinking about it for hours on end.

So, if you're looking for a vampire story that's a little off the beaten path, and you still haven't seen My Heart Can't Beat Unless You Tell It To, head over to Peacock right now and check it out.