Torn Hearts is a thoroughly unsettling little thriller that starts normal and descends into craziness. Katey Sagal (Married.. With Children) has long been known for her comedy chops, but Torn Hearts shows a different, far darker side to her that I never could have expected and would very much like to see again.
Add a well-paced script by Rachel Koller Croft, good direction from Brea Brea Grant, some good songs, and a killer ending, and Torn Hearts makes for a welcome edition to the horror genre.
Best friends Leigh (Alexxis Lemire) and Jordan (Abby Quinn) are aspiring musicians who make up the “Torn Hearts”, a country rock band stuck playing in little bars with a pig of a manager (Joshua Leonard). When Jordan discovers the address of their musical idol Harper Dutch (Katey Sagal), she convinces Leigh to come with her and convince Harper to do a song with them and boost their careers. When they arrive unannounced and meet her, everything seems kosher until Harper starts manipulating the girls to nefarious ends that could mean the fight for their lives.
Torn Hearts Tugs At The Mind Strings
Torn Hearts spends much of its runtime as a psychological thriller before turning violent at the end. I like that the film doesn’t begin with any inking of horror at all, but as a story about 2 country musicians who want to make it big and are willing to do anything to get it before revealing its true colors to us. Like fellow horror-thrillers Joy Ride or 1408 (both early 2000’s films for anyone who hasn’t heard of them), the tone in Torn Hearts is initially light and inviting, but slowly darkens as the characters realize the depth of their situation.
Lemire and Quinn are likable leads and pretty good singers (this is coming from someone who’s like of country music usually extends to old Taylor Swift songs) and both do well with the more dramatic stuff later on. However, the real show-stealer is Katey Sagal, who is subtly intimidating from the moment she steps onscreen, but also warm enough so that you buy the girls wouldn’t be immediately suspicious. Of course, while the characters don’t start smelling something rotten in Denmark for awhile, the soundtrack is sure we as the audience will thanks to well-placed horror/thriller music cues that make it a fun freaky experience.
Sagal is primarily known for her comedic chops as showcased on Married… With Children and her voicework on Futurama, but watching Torn Hearts reminded me of her turn as PAT in the Disney Channel film Smart House, wherein she played a malevolent robot. As Harper Dutch, Sagal dominates nearly every scene she’s in and is clearly having a blast playing this twisted, unhinged character without every going too far into camp or scenery-chewing.
Along with Sagal’s acting experience, I also must once again give praise to the screenplay by Rachel Koller Croft for giving her a meaty role to bite into and Brea Grant’s strong direction ensuring she and the scenario stay scary rather than becoming unintentionally silly. Both Croft and Grant show great skill here and I look forward to seeing their next projects whatever they may be.
Thematically, Torn Hearts is about some of my favorite things one can explore on film: Fame, friendship, and how the desire for one can destroy the other. Though Katey Sagal is absolutely playing the villain here, there is an air of sadness and tragedy around the character that would almost make us feel sorry for her if she wasn’t manipulating our two heroines like puppets on a string. Also, the cracks in the girls’ relationship is hinted at early on and well-utilized for drama later, making Harper’s manipulation all the more impactful and believable to us.
The fear here comes not as much from the gore (though it’s definitely there by the end), but more from the mind games being played. And of course, the cherry on top is that all of these dark, seedy developments are happening within Harper’s colorful, spacious mansion full of country star iconography. I love the use of lighting here to communicate tone and mood, and the final sequence is truly harrowing. Plus the final scene over the closing credits is sure to leave the viewer shaken in the best way, which is always nice in horror.
Torn Hearts offers solid psychological thrills, some good tunes, and a scene-stealing performance from Katey Sagal that makes it a welcome addition to this year’s horror lineup. See it.
3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)