‘Torn Hearts’ Sings Sweet Songs as it Twists the Knife
Brea Grant’s third feature-length film Torn Hearts is a tense and at times claustrophobic horror thriller set in a world we don’t see much of in the genre: the country music scene. A lot of folks may write off the majority of country music as a platform to lament about loves, dogs, and trucks lost to the tumultuous currents of the cruel indifference of reality. That’s a little unfair. Country is a medium that welcomes not only the grief-stricken & regretful, but presents the state of things as they are. Usually things aren’t great within the lyrics of its songs, but there’s sometimes a glimpse of hope somewhere in the narrative. It equates to playing the hand you’re dealt, however crummy it may be.
In Torn Hearts we meet Leigh (Alexxis Lemire) and Jordan (Abby Quinn), a duo of the same name who find themselves on the verge of a big break. They express apprehension at an opportunity to open for megastar Caleb Crawford. Jordan puts him in the “corny music for soccer moms” category, already at odds with the idea. Crawford’s manager is only really making the offer because they’re women, stating the need to improve “optics” on an upcoming summer tour. We can tell that they want to go big the right way, with their integrity intact. While it may not be the way they want it, they could lose this opportunity if they don’t act on it. At this point it’s worth pointing out that the original music written for Torn Hearts, as played by Torn Hearts, is one of the best parts of the film.
Composed by Brittany Allen, the selections that form Torn Hearts’ repertoire feel genuinely of its world; indelible parts of a whole that color in an untold history between Leigh and Jordan. The songs are well-crafted and thoughtfully written and contribute to an expanded idea contrary to what people think of country music. The songs get progressively tender as the story goes on, with insight to the inner desires of each band member’s true dreams. Fans of country will no doubt be in their wheelhouse here but it’s also not the members-only club that the premise would lead audiences to believe. It’s a horror thriller first and band movie second, which happens to include some full-length songs. The addition of Katey Sagal’s mellifluous singing voice isn’t just icing on the cake either. Her involvement is a direct instrument of a precise weaponization of the concept of notoriety; even if Harper Dutch records a song with Torn Hearts it won’t matter if Dutch’s performance drags, the fact that it happened is worth whatever price it takes to get it. The performances both musical and dramatic reach some pretty high highs, before the film’s tense setup pays off into a dramatic nosedive into a series of low lows.
Elements of satire are used in clever fashion to turn against the public perception that any artist is truly genuine. Even the outwardly humble hide things that fester and blossom in the dark. Every once in a while new information comes to light giving previous events a sinister bite in retrospect. Some might say a supernatural layer, undefinable yet present, begins to creep out. It never fully gets there but the effect works whether you would rather take it in a literal sense or not. There may be some theories floating around already about who (or what) Harper Dutch really is and how she exerts control so efficiently.
Leigh and Jordan agree to entertain the invitation and get to talking with Crawford about the tour. Later that night Jordan learns that Crawford has met Harper Dutch (Katey Sagal), one half of the infamous Duchess Sisters. They’ve been the unofficial inspiration for Torn Hearts since their act started. Crawford boosted his career into the stratosphere after recording a duet with Dutch, and Jordan gets the idea to try and capture that lightning in a bottle with Leigh. Crawford warns against seeking her out, but Jordan becomes insistent. When else will they get this chance to make their presence known by the country legend? Possibly never again. Jordan and Leigh track Harper Dutch down at her impossibly large mansion with full hearts, and it’s from here the fun begins.
From the very beginning of their visit something feels off. Katey Sagal’s ambiguous maliciousness provides a wonderful and palpable sense of tension and dread, almost tangibly so. From here the film mainly takes place in the home of Harper Dutch. In so doing, Torn Hearts becomes in more ways than one, a much tighter film. Spaces and attitudes among characters start to feel cloying rather than homey or tidy, by choice. The house itself becomes a character of its own, containing just as many façades as the enigmatic Harper Dutch. The film itself is in disguise; it takes on the skin of a Lifetime original film, writhing underneath is something completely unpredictable and dangerously chaotic. Every little moment feels like a clue to the bigger picture of what bedlam unfolds. But things stay relatively ambiguous until we reach a breaking point. The trajectory of Torn Hearts can not be predicted, but it doesn’t get as wild as it should. Although its restraint is surprisingly artful in what it could unleash, it has no qualms about singing a sweet song while sliding a knife straight into your back.
Torn Hearts is now available to watch on Epix courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment and Blumhouse Television, and is currently for sale or rental on digital platforms.
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This article was originally published May 25th, 2022 on Geek Vibes Nation.