Deadly ambition is at the centre of this thriller, offering style, substance and Southern charm.
Synopsis: Follows a country music duo who seek out the private mansion of their idol and end up in a twisted series of horrors that force them to confront the limits they’d go for their dreams.
When we first encounter Leigh (Alexxis Lemire) and Jordan (Abby Quinn) they are in their element, happily performing on stage together as country music duo Torn Hearts. Only moments after stepping off stage, however, cracks in their relationship begin to show, exacerbated by Leigh’s relationship with their manager Ritchie (Joshua Leonard). Jordan craves making her own vision a reality, fearing that they are being forced to become ‘robotic country-pop princesses’. A chance encounter with Caleb Crawford (Shiloh Fernandez) secures her the address of former ‘Dutchess Sisters’ mega-star Harper Dutch (Katey Sagal) to pursue that new direction. However, as Jordan and Leigh arrive, tensions threaten more than their musical partnership.
Torn Hearts is steeped in the duality of fame. From its opening chipper interview with the Dutchess Sisters intercut with more sinister scenes, the film is constantly pushing artifice to the fore, probing at the darkness behind the neon lights. That sense of duality extends to other characters too, words are twisted and promises are broken with no concern. Early on, Ritchie explains that a company need more women, quickly followed by ‘for the optics’. Despite their hard work in refining songs and the clear enjoyment of their audiences, Torn Hearts, are still seen for their potential to tick a box, rather than genuine investment.
The glossy interview that starts the film introduces the Dutchess Sisters as a typical country music duo from the past, with big hair, big smiles and gaudy colours as a kind of uniform. By contrast, Torn Hearts are introduced as bolder and more energetic, keeping a modern look and stage performance style. The pastel pinks and glitter in the Dutchess Sisters’ aesthetic extend into Harper’s home, but that duality features again surfacing signs of decay and unpleasantness from digging through boxes or cracking an egg. The richness of colour in the surroundings and costumes gives every scene a tactile depth. This is a film that is stunning to look at, with perfect lighting choices and real attention to detail that serves it so well. Deep reds, neon pinks and mirrored disco ball effects leap off the screen, with those normally ‘girly’ aesthetics staying in place as the tension and threat escalate.
Of course, given the subject matter, it is difficult not to see hagsploitation hints within the film. With that said, this is high-glamour hagsploitation, with Sagal’s Harper seemingly in a new costume and immaculate makeup with every appearance, even when only minutes apart. Furthermore, whereas many of those films have their central figure as a has-been, desperate to reclaim past glory, Harper does not fit into that box, with the younger characters in pursuit of her wisdom and prestige. Sagal’s performance is excellent, commanding attention every time she appears on the screen. Her mix of Southern charm with sudden bursts of unpredictability adds to the tension. That surface welcoming charm moves from friendly to insistent and demanding throughout, dialling up and down the sense of danger.
Abby Quinn and Alexxis Lemire as Leigh and Jordan respectively are convincing as a partnership, managing to convey their frustrations with one another as well as a deeply-held affection. Quinn’s Jordan is the rather more spiky, sarcastic and openly frustrated of the pair, with Leigh a softer presence, more inclined to do as she is told to by others. In many films that call for tension between two women, the writing can make it hard to see why they were ever friends at all or imply that there has always been a deep-rooted dislike. That many of their disagreements come from outside forces that wish to place them into distinct roles is a major thread within the film.
Brea Grant’s directorial debut 12 Hour Shift displayed an awareness of how to create standout moments using music, so her handling of the musical elements here is notable. Given that this is a film primarily about the way genuine talent can often be buried under enforced, constructed narratives, Grant offers space for the talent to shine. A scene featuring the three women singing acapella together (released as a clip from the film, but best avoided until you have seen the film) hits the pause button in a moment of reverence for their skill, shot simply but effectively to make them the focal point. Writer Rachel Koller Croft’s script has a throughline of dark comic lines but also delivers on the weightier material, never losing sight of the central message.
Excellent performances, lavish style and a focused central message make Torn Hearts an engaging and meaningful watch.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Torn Hearts is available On Paramount Home Entertainment on May 20th. You can pre-order now.