Thus far in 2022, Blumhouse Productions has continued to dominate horror in terms of sheer quantity, if nothing else. In addition to The Black Phone, the Jason Blum et al. have produced They/Them, Dashcam, and the Firestarter remake. As part of their deal with premium cable channel Epix, Blumhouse also produced the mixed Unhuman and country music horror-thriller Torn Hearts. While no one’s going to complain about more platforms for genre movies, it’s too bad Torn Hearts wasn’t screened for a larger audience. Starring Katey Sagal, critics have raved about this dark parable on fame, aging, and sexism.
Jordan and Leigh, who go by Torn Hearts, are best friends and aspiring country music stars. But the road to fame and stardom stretches out pretty far for the friends. When a shot at opening for big-name male country singer goes nowhere, Jordan and Leigh decide to show up on the doorstep of their childhood idol – Harper Dutch. Once a mega-recording star alongside her sister, declining record sales and tragedy drove Harper into isolation. Now she’s willing to show the young friends the ropes of the music industry. At a steep price.
Torn Hearts Works as a Thriller More Committed to Character Over Visceral Thrills
First and foremost, Torn Hearts leans on a combination of mystery and psychological horror. After introductions to our struggling musical duo, director Brea Grant, who starred in last year’s feminist horror Lucky, puts us at Harper Dutch’s doorstep. From that point onward, Grant immediately has audiences guessing at what secrets are waiting in this decrepit version of ‘Dollyland’ while slow-burning the tension. And the slow burn works quite well in the thriller’s second half. Though plenty of hints are dropped, Torn Hearts doesn’t commit to any one direction. Is this a psychological thriller about an aging star suffering from delusions and guilt? Or is there some supernatural or Faustian angle waiting to pop up?
As Torn Hearts turns the corner into its third act, Grant fully commits to a genre and, as a result, feels like it conforms to expectation. That is, the ending may not be a complete surprise to audiences.
Grant teases the possibilities while showing off an apt grasp for keeping the tension simmering. Dutch’s increasingly odd behaviour – and the ringer through which she puts the aspiring starts – are subtly unnerving as opposed to the more explicit discomfort of ‘Torture Porn’ movies. As Torn Hearts turns the corner into its third act, Grant fully commits to a genre and, as a result, feels like it conforms to expectation. That is, the ending may not be a complete surprise to audiences. Yet it’s also the story direction best suited for the thriller’s bigger story.
Torn Hearts Explores the Horrors Inflicted On Women in the Music Industry
Audiences are likely going to point to the thriller’s country music setting as the big novelty here. And while horror and psychological thrillers have visited the rock industry in the past, Nashville doesn’t make many genre appearances. Still Torn Heart’s ‘bigger story’ is rooted in a feminist exploration of the music industry and the way in which it exploits and later discards women. As the reclusive Harper Dutch, Katey Sagal excels as a hardened, and maybe delusional, aged music star. Her treatment of Jordan and Leigh – and the ways in which she forces them to choose stardom over each other – mimics the music industry while also advancing the movie’s central mystery – what happened to Harper’s sister and music partner, Hope?
Still Torn Heart’s ‘bigger story’ is rooted in a feminist exploration of the music industry and the way in which it exploits and later discards women.
Both Abby Quinn (Black Mirror) and Alexxis Lemire, as Jordan and Leigh, are equally impressive as best friends whose sisterhood strains under the pressure of chasing stardom. Screenwriter Rachel Koller Croft checks off the myriad of ways the music industry exploits women. There’s the sleazy older manager and boyfriend played by The Blair Witch Project’s Joshua Leonard. And then there’s Shiloh Fernandez’s (Evil Dead) ‘wokefishing‘ country music star. Wait until the thriller’s final scene for Grant and Koller Croft to drive home their point. All of this commentary is crafted into a movie patterned after classic psychological thrillers like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.
Torn Hearts a Strong Thriller Deserving of a Wider Audience
Though its third act somewhat gives in to expectations, Torn Hearts still delivers a taut, thoughtful thriller. What Grant delivers in a single location for two-thirds of the movie is a slow and steady build that keeps you guessing even if you’re sure you know where it’s going. And the performances are excellent across the board. Certainly, Katey Sagal offers another remind that she should be cast in a lot more movies and shows. Maybe you could nitpick that Leigh’s arc feels abrupt. But like the rest of the story, it’s a development in service to Grant and Koller Croft’s larger commentary on how the music industry victimizes women.