How far would you go to make it to the top? Would you do whatever it takes even if it meant backstabbing your best friend? The ugliness of the music industry comes to life in the new horror film, Torn Hearts. Best friends Leigh (Alexxis Lemire) and Jordan (Abby Quinn) are a country music duo looking for their big break in the industry. When the girls seek out the help of music icon Harper Dutch (Katey Sagal) at her secluded mansion, they are slowly pitted against each other as they learn about the cutthroat nature of the business.
Directed by Brea Grant and written by Rachel Koller Croft, Torn Hearts is a tense psychological thriller with a country music spin that puts a spotlight on the horrors women tend to face in the entertainment industry. In conversation with Digital Trends, Grant spoke about her love for stories about complicated protagonists, the process of casting the three female leads, the backstory behind the original music, and the problem with pitting women against each other in the entertainment industry.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Digital Trends: I read that you love telling stories about complicated women. What attracts you to these types of stories?
Brea Grant: Well, I think we’ve seen a lot of women in genre movies for a long time. But I think even though they are the heroine, they’re the lead or something, they’re not that complicated. I hate to invoke the trope of the final girl, but often she is, you know, a virgin. She hasn’t done anything wrong. She’s innocent. And I think there is something much more interesting about women who have done things and have flaws. I think we’ve been telling the stories about men with flaws for years and years. We have so many flawed men in our stories, and I think it’s time we started doing the same for women. I just think it’s so much more interesting.
When you read the script, what stood out to you from the start?
Have you ever seen a movie about horror in the country music scene? [laughter] I read so many horror scripts, so many genre scripts, and this one had a good setting that I loved. Just the fact that it took place in this world was something I had never seen. There are not that many movies about it, period. I mean there are some dramas. There are some musicals and stuff. But for the most part, there is not that much set in the country music world. There’s definitely never been a horror movie in that world.
How did you come to cast the three leads? Were you looking for actresses that could also sing?
Yeah, totally. It was scary at first because I really want them to be able to sing. I want to be able to do some of this live. I don’t want to have to dub everybody. I didn’t know if it was going to be possible. But then I started getting tapes and I was like, “Oh yeah, L.A. and New York and Atlanta and all these cities are full of these multi-hyphenates who can sing. I got some tapes in Nashville, too. It’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the amount of talent that is in all of these cities.
Abby and Alexxis both sent in tapes of them singing. I was familiar with Alexxis’s work. She’s in a film called The Half of It, which is totally great if you’ve never seen it. Alexxis has a beautiful voice. She’s not a professional singer. She has no training, but she’s just an amazing voice. And Abby is an amazing guitarist and singer and also just has this incredible voice. I just loved the idea of them together.
For Katey, she was on my list from the beginning. I wanted someone who we’ve seen do all sorts of stuff. We’ve seen her do comedy, and we’ve seen her do drama. But wouldn’t it be really rad to see her do a horror movie? And she can sing. She just has this gravitas, and I felt like she could do this character and do her justice without going over the top with her, but [someone to] draw us all in. I just needed someone who people immediately were like, “Oh, yeah, I want to watch this woman and see what this woman’s going to do.”
Katey seems to have this magnetic force to her where it’s very hard to look away when she’s on-screen.
She’s like that in real life too. She walked on the set and everyone was kind of like quiet and I was like, “Oh okay. Everyone’s behaving all of a sudden because Katey walked in.”
Music is such a huge part of this film. How did you go about choosing the songs? Did you bring in artists to write original songs?
So Rachel, who wrote the script, wrote lyrics to these songs that she thought would be the lyrics for the songs, which was amazing. Normally, I feel like we would be starting from scratch, but we brought on a music producer named Alan [Ett] and he read the lyrics and was like, “I think I can make this work.” Then he and I sort of worked together to craft what the songs would be like because I wanted them all to feel very different. The ones that Torn Hearts were doing should feel almost bordering on pop music. They’re like pop-country. They’re trying to break into the mainstream, whereas the ones that the Dutchess Sisters did, those should be like 90s country. I even wanted them to feel a little bit older than that. Then for Caleb’s songs, one didn’t make it to the movie, unfortunately. Those should feel more like “bro-ey country” a little bit.
So I sent him [Alan] examples and we talked a lot about it. Then he wrote these songs and arranged them and sent them to me and I gave him notes. We had about a week to do it. I mean the turnaround time in this movie was super fast. So we did that, and then Abby and Alexxis came to New Orleans. We put them in the studio for a day so we could get their songs recorded, and the other ones were recorded elsewhere. But yeah, it was a quick turnaround process, which is super fun. It felt like, “Okay, just go with your gut. We can’t think about this too much.” The songs have to feel like the kind of songs that we’re trying to emulate here.
One of the bigger themes in the movie is the idea that outside forces are trying to pit these two girls against each other. Early in the movie, Caleb tells Jordan how one person typically makes it in a group. Also, Leigh’s manager/boyfriend tells Leigh she might be better off solo. Was it important to establish this idea of pitting women up against each other from the beginning?
You’re hitting on one of the themes I wanted to make sure people walked away with because I think Harper even says at some point something like “When women fight each other, we all lose.” And I feel this is something that the entertainment industry tends to do. It tends to pit women against each other, not just like being up for the same jobs, but also like, “Oh, there’s like one woman per set or one female lead in a movie.” I just feel and see it happening over and over again.
I wanted to show that on-screen and how it is affecting them because I don’t want us to have a lot of judgment towards them. I wanted us to see that they were put into the situation and they did what their characters would do in that situation. What these women would do if they were put up against this because they’d been given all this information. They think this is the only way to succeed, and so they do what they have to do.
Torn Hearts is billed as a horror film, but it’s almost like a tragedy as these characters get built up only to come crashing back down. I was wondering if you viewed the film like that, too.
I like that. I tend to make movies that are not in one particular genre. For better or for worse, I like my movies to have genre elements from a lot of stuff. For example, this one has some action in it. It definitely has some horror elements. It has a lot of thriller elements. I took a lot of cues from Misery, which I think is a horror movie, but it is a slow-burn horror movie. I also like to have a lot of fun with my movies. I think it’s hard for me to really define the genre. Maybe at some point, people will be like, “Oh, it’s a Brea Grant flick.”
What is the biggest takeaway you would like the audience to walk away with after watching this film?
First and foremost, I always want people to have fun. That is always my goal with movies. I want people to have a good time, to see something they’ve probably never seen before. But then, I actually want people to sympathize with the characters. I sympathize with them. I really felt like yes, they did things that maybe one should not do. But, I want people to be with them on their journey.
Torn Hearts is available on digital starting May 20.