Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2009 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // May 25th, 2010
Every heart hides a secret.
Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Tell-Tale Heart" was published in 1843. It follows the mental breakdown of a man who has committed a murder, hiding the body under the floorboards of his home. However, guilt and paranoia drive the man to believe that he can hear the heart of the victim beating from under the floor. His madness leads him to confess the murder to the police.
Poe's story is taut, gripping, suspenseful, and satisfying. Tell Tale the film, a "re-imagining" (i.e. barely related to the original) of Poe's tale, is none of these things.
Terry Bernard (Josh Lucas, Poseidon), a single dad, is the recent recipient of a heart transplant. His body appears to accepting the new organ without problems. Terry's daughter (Beatrice Miller, Confessions Of A Shopaholic) has a rare and ultimately fatal genetic disorder, but her doctor (Lena Headey, 300) offers some hope of treatment. Moreover, there seems to be some attraction between the beautiful doctor and Terry. Things are looking up. However, soon Terry starts having strange visions and seems to recognize complete strangers that set his heart haywire. Just what is Terry's new heart trying to tell him?
The use of organ donations and renegade appendages is old hat in the horror genre, for example, The Hand, The Eye, Idle Hands, and The Hands Of Orlac. Most of these films are risible and barely watchable. Tell Tale isn't that bad, but it's not that good either.
The main twist in Tell Tale is that the transplanted heart starts pounding out the deafening "thump-thump" whenever Terry is in the presence of a person involved with what is revealed to be an unsavoury acquisition of said organ. The heart wants what the heart wants. In this case, it wants payback and Terry is the unwilling vessel of revenge. A couple of other wrinkles are thrown into the mix, such as a police detective (Brian Cox, Adaptation), who realizes what Terry is doing, but strangely approves of and encourages the vigilante justice.
There's nothing groundbreaking here. It's standard B-movie horror fare with the action uncoiling at a decent enough pace to prevent things from dragging. There are gory scenes and futile attempts by the protagonist to reassert control over his actions. Loved ones are put at risk. The evil doers spend too much time talking rather than finishing off the hero when they have the chance. And last, there's the mandatory "shocking" revelation in the final scene, which will leave viewers gasping out of either surprise or annoyance as the screen fades to black and the "thump-thumps" begin.
The cast gives it the college try. Lucas effectively transforms himself from a mild-manner IT worker into a conflicted and then efficient vigilante. It's a good performance. Unsurprisingly, Cox is the other stand-out. He is suitably gruff and somewhat malevolent as the mysterious detective.
The video transfer is fine. The picture is detailed and the color is solid. The surround sound delivers both the dialogue and soundtrack clean and clear. There's really nothing to complain about in these departments.
There are no extras.
There's a reason this went from the Tribeca festival straight to DVD without a wide release. This is for horror aficionados only.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R