New Horror Releases: Heartbeat (2020) - Reviewed

Heartbeat is a slasher movie with no idea how to create tension, suspense, drama, effective death scenes, interesting characters, a coherent story or much of anything else. It is full of conversations that go nowhere and clunky exposition that defeats its own purpose by not actually furthering the plot. It is a mystery with no intrigue, a thriller with no thrills. The filmmakers seem to have tried to cherry-pick elements from successful slasher movies and psychological thrillers, but are unable to make them work. Heartbeat is a big mess.

The main character is Jennifer, a reporter apparently so good at her job that multiple people come to her begging for her help in investigating a recent series of murders. Why they need her, or what she has accomplished to earn that level of respect, is not made clear. She is mean, reckless and never uncovers anything truly useful. Or maybe she does. The story is so confusing that it is hard to say what is intended to be important information. When the killer’s motives are revealed, several of the killings still make no sense. The body count rises because that is what happens in these stories.

The protagonist is a journalist, yet she does no interviewing, research, or writing. Instead of being shown, we keep being told how great she is at her job. At least she has a purpose in the plot. Same with the detective investigating the murders. Everyone else (including the weird guy who takes pictures of her and her stalker ex-boyfriend) is only there to be a victim or a suspect. That is certainly the case in a lot of horror movies, though it is so blatant here. 

Heartbeat introduces some mild subplots, however it fails to develop any of them. The identity of the killer, while being incredibly obvious, is also entirely arbitrary (additionally, it seems like they would have had to be in two places at once to commit at least one of the murders). The characters have so little to them that it could have been pretty much anyone and they would not even have had to change the motive. It speeds through its plot without ever pausing to make any sense.

As an example of some of the bigger issues here, take the opening scene. A young woman, home alone, gets a phone call from a creep who can see what she is doing and uses their knowledge to torment her. For me, this is extremely reminiscent of the opening of Scream. The difference is Scream takes time to establish its situation, building up to the woman’s fear and eventual panic. It sets a mood. Heartbeat rushes through it in about two minutes, with awkward staging that causes the woman to look like a complete idiot. What should have set the tone for everything to come just felt perfunctory.

All of its murders are similarly lazy. Generally, it goes like this: the camera slowly moves toward someone whose back is turned, they spin around, hands reach forward, they scream. There is zero suspense, no excitement about who the killer could be, nothing to keep a viewer’s attention. It has the basic pieces that make up a slasher movie, but lacks everything that would connect them to each other. Fans of horror, thrillers, mysteries, really anything, are better off looking elsewhere.

-Ben Pivoz