Christopher Di Nunzio’s Her Heart Still Beats is a modern take on the classic Edgar Allan Poe story “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Married couple Ed (Fiore Leo) and Sarah Gallo (Leighsa Burgin) seem to be living a normal married life. Like many couples nowadays, one works from home, in this case Ed, and the other heads off to their job. When Sarah comes down sick, Ed begins to notice something odd about her eyes; something so vile to him that he begins to contemplate murdering her. It is only when she finally stays home from work that Ed is pushed to his breaking point, and moves forward with the dastardly deed.
If you’re familiar with the Edgar Allan Poe classic (and who isn’t, honestly), then you know that Ed does not handle his sudden freedom from his wife’s vile eyes very well, and the film predictably follows the tale to Ed’s eventual confession. What I liked most about this adaptation, however, was the way that it worked in Ed’s issues with Sarah in conjunction with her illness and eventual need to stay home. Perhaps it wasn’t her eyes that was bothering him so much, but the possibility that the world he had built up in her absence was about to be intruded upon, and THAT is what he truly couldn’t stand.
Additionally, the opening imagery of Ed in the back of a car starting to tell his tale looks incredible. The lighting is gorgeous and the shadows play perfectly with the macabre story he is in the process of telling. It is a ridiculously high visual bar to set, and it promises so much.
Which is where things start to get disappointing. The film, while most often competently lensed, never quite gets near that level of artistic composition or style again (except in the bookend of the tale, using the same shot). Footage shot outside in the woods seems to be suffering from a weird color correction issue, giving a blown-out, creme look to the sky. Hot damn the leaves are freaky green, but the rest seems… off.
But those, while noticeable, are not my biggest criticisms. My main issues with this short fall upon the shoulders of Fiore Leo’s performance as Ed, and some suspiciously missing audio cues. In the case of the former, Ed’s ride to insanity is about as over-the-top and hammy as they come. The only thing missing in his bug-eyed, creepy descent to insanity was the maniacal laughter. Because I found his performance so startling, it was hard to embrace the short.
As for the audio cue I mentioned, as Ed begins to go mad, nearing his confession, the consistent heartbeat one would expect to have building up in the mix is absent. It wouldn’t be so odd, however, if it hadn’t shown up from time to time previously in the short. Because of its previous usage, we know that it’s a choice to keep it absent in the climactic moment… but why? Especially considering the source story and a title of Her Heart Still Beats.
In the end, that opening composition and the modern-day adaptation aspect of the tale really worked wonderfully for me. The main performance in the film, and a few technical peculiarities, tripped it all up however. It’s unfortunate, because when it gets things right it really excels, that it doesn’t come together as well as its potential would suggest.
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