Horror’s Unseen Gems of 2021

Movie posters for 2021 horror movies

A Mind On Fire takes a look at three horror movies of 2021 that may slipped through the cracks or have been over shadowed by bigger releases.

Believe it or not movies were released in 2021. A lot of them never made it to your local theater because independent features have rarely played well at the big chain theater centered in the local mall. These three horror movies were released last year and seemed to have disappeared. We’re shining a little light on them.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

Patrick Fugit, who looks more and more like my dad with every movie I see him in, leads a small cast in a movie about three siblings. When I say “small  cast” I mean three people small. If we include the supporting actors that number goes to six. 

Dwight, played by Fugit, and his sister Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram), are raising their younger brother on their won. They go to extreme measures to protect him. Thomas (Owen Campbell) can’t leave the house during the day. If he’s exposed to sunlight his skin starts to burn. He survives on human blood. If that sounds like a nocturnal monster you’ve seen in countless horror movies you’d be right. Except that word is never said in the film.

A bowl of blood in horror movie

It’s also never explicitly said what happened to their parents, but it’s apparent Dwight and Jessie have been raising Thomas on their own for quite some time. Dwight is at the end of his emotional rope by the time we meet him. Fugit plays Dwight like someone who is keeping an eternal rage deep inside him. Schram’s Jessie is a sister who would do anything to protect her brother. Owen’s Thomas is sick and tired of being sick. It’s a dynamic that won’t end well for any of them.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To won’t appeal to anyone looking for fast action, wooden stakes to the heart, and fangs. It’s not that kind of a movie. It’s a slow moving study of a family falling apart. The three siblings could be any number of families in the world struggling to survive and struggling to stay together. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a must see for anyone who independent, small feature films. 


What should have been a simple task for two forest rangers turns into a nightmare when Gabi and Winston, the forest rangers, leave the safety of their boat to head into the forest. In the forest Gabi discovers a world she’s never known. It’s a world where mud can heal wounds and spores from mushrooms create monsters. It’s a world where she meets a father and son who worship a tree. 

At roughly ninety minutes, Gaia is a quick movie. It’s also a slow movie. How are those two things possible in the same movie? A lot of the runtime is dedicated to forwarding the nightmare Gabi has found herself in through psychedelic visions and dreams influenced by a fungus growing in her body. The slow parts are when we learn about the scientist. The two combine together to create a fast paced movie.

Bleeding eyes in Gaia

Gabi learns that Barend, the scientist, and his son Stefan have been living in the forest for years. In that time the two have started worshiping the forest and one tree in particular as deities in a religion of their own creation. Barend has rejected the outside world and he may or may not be responsible for the creatures in the woods. At the very least, he knows the spore spewing mushrooms create the creatures. Gabi may learn the truth if it doesn’t kill her first.

A lot more people would have been talking about Gaia if the A24 logo appeared in the opening credits. The movie fits their model and it’s the kind of movie A24 fans flock to see. Gaia is a movie that will force you to think and to fill in gaps on your own. The amazing score leads the audience from start to finish like the river the forest rangers should have never left. The cinematography is easily some of the best seen in an independent feature. Gaia is a must see for fans of psychological horror.

In The Earth

For one reason or another the COVID Pandemic has spawned a lot of movies about pandemics. From Michael Bay’s Songbird to the Anne Hathaway vehicle Locked Down it seems like everyone is getting in on the pandemic action. Ben Wheatly entered the pandemic fray in 2021 with In The Earth. Sort of.

There’s a pandemic raging in the outside world. Dr. Martin Lowery arrives at a lodge, closed due to said pandemic, to do soil studies with a past co-worker, Dr. Wendle. Martin must be cleared before he can begin his studies. He’s subjected to tests a lot of our world has become accustomed to in the past two years: his temperature is taken, he’s asked questions about his quarantine, questioned about past illnesses, and his blood is taken. You get the feeling the pandemic was added into the script only after the COVID pandemic started because once Martin leaves the lodge with a park ranger, Alma, the pandemic is forgotten.

Photographs from In The Earth

 The unnamed pandemic is the hook that would get an audience’ eyes on a screen. Once Martin and Alma enter the woods the pandemic angle is left behind. What’s left is a movie much like Gaia. In the Earth is a film wherein the antagonists reject the world at large. They’re searching for something that is otherworldly, but a world that is much closer than we think.

Dr. Wendle studies the mycorrhizal mat. The mycorrhizal mat, or network, is a symbiotic relationship between fungus, trees,tree roots, and the soil. It’s a relationship that yields great benefits to a forest’s vegetation and life. It’s a relationship that may or may not be the end of Martin and Alma.

Martin and Alma are dragged into Dr. Wendle’s attempts to communicate with the mythical spirit of the woods known as Parnag Fegg. By association, Parang Fegg is the mycorrhizal mat or the earth. Instead of doing studies on the earth or the soils, as Martin was going to do, Dr. Wendle is attempting to communicate with Parnag Fegg by translating a manual called the “Hammer of the Witches.” 

Alma the Park Ranger In the Earth

Though there seems to be a rejection of science in In the Earth it’s science that’s enabling Dr. Wendle to “speak” with a stone sitting on what may be the center of the forest. Is science messing with nature or is nature rejecting science? By the end of the movie you may not know the answer.

In the Earth, like most of Ben Wheatley’s films, isn’t a straightforward movie. There’s no going from point A to Point B like in a lot of movies being made today and it won’t necessarily make sense. You’ll have questions that may or may not have answers when the credits roll. However, Wheatley keeps the audience engaged in the movie before leaving them with one heck of ending.