Her Heart Still Beats (Short, 2011)
Directed by Christopher Di Nunzio
The title card for Christopher Di Nunzio's short film Her Heart Still Beats states that it was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. Most of us are familiar with that story – a man kills his neighbor, chops him into pieces, and buries him underneath the floorboards in his apartment, after which the man is driven mad by hallucinations of the dead neighbor's still beating heart. Her Heart Still Beats copies many facets of Poe's story – the deceased has "something wrong" with her eyes that causes the murderer to kill her, and the killer then goes mad because he hears and sees things that aren't there. Or are they? It's a story of madness, the slippery slope of sanity, and not knowing what the truth is.
Ed's wife, Sarah (Burgen), comes home early from work one day, and Ed (Leo) thinks he sees something in her eyes that sets him on edge. He just can't place his finger on what's going on and why he's freaking out.
Is there really something wrong, creepy, and possibly paranormal about Sarah's eyes; or is it all in his head? By the end of the running time, there's not a clear answer. It seems more like Ed has lost his mind because when he speaks with the police about Sarah's death, he tells them of an old man he came across out in the woods, but no such man exists.
Stating that Poe's story was the inspiration for this short raises expectations in the audience that the film never comes close to living up to and feels a bit like an insult to one of the pioneers of horror fiction. It's as though the filmmakers were unable to make a collective decision if Ed is crazy or not, and he's not seen as being either distraught or tormented over his wife's death – just creeped out about her eyes from that afternoon when she comes home until he offs her.
All of this, coupled with the slow pace of Her Heart Still Beats and its confusion over what direction to take (is Ed crazy, is he paranoid, or is this some sort of weird twisted dream?), results in the 25-minute runtime feeling much, much longer. However, Di Nunzio's loyalty to Poe's atmosphere carries over, and the best parts of the film are the things you're not supposed to notice as much like the music and camera angles. There are some odd perspectives that certainly support that poor ol' Ed has lost his mind, and the music bears this out via clever compositions.
Burgen's acting is fine, as is that of the smaller bit players, but it seems like Leo wasn't sure of the direction in which to take his character and thought madness (or the question of madness) was best played all over the map. This is compounded by the fact that it doesn't feel like a completed piece - more like a student film project, albeit one with a good deal of promise, and despite the film's nod to the "mood" of Poe, I never found any of the characters the least bit threatening.
My advice is to skip Her Heart Still Beats unless you have a spare half-hour with nothing whatsoever to do.
2 out of 5