‘Torn Hearts’ review: Crisp thriller explores dark side of stardom and sisterhood
Katey Sagal as Harper Dutch in TORN HEARTS.

The new thriller, Torn Hearts, is a movie about complicated women. The actions these women perform may be seen as villainous, but the real monsters of the film are a bit less obvious. Meshing together the contrasting worlds of country music and the horror genre, the movie explores themes dealing with female solidarity, and the suffocating pressure society often places on women who have goals beyond childbearing and holy matrimony. It’s definitely a horror story, just not one relying on supernatural thrills and jump scares. The real terror lies in the psychological darkness women can be pushed into under a system embedded with sexism and dog-eat-dog competition.

Directed by Brea Grant and written by Rachel Koller Croft, Torn Hearts tells the story of a female musical duo who are rising artists in the Nashville Country Music scene. Wanting something bigger than playing dive bars in the city the young women seek out the legendary and reclusive music star Harper Dutch (Katey Sagal). Harper hasn’t made new music since the mysterious death of her music partner and sister, Hope. What starts out as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to record a song with their country hero, turns into a warped saga of mental and physical torment, as the pair discover that Harper– and each of them– may have ulterior motives.

Torn Hearts does well with the psychological thriller elements. Similar to classics such as Misery, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, the movie makes sure to rest a good amount of weight on a powerhouse female character that brings it all to life. This is to be found with Katey Sagal and her portrayal of Harper.

Sagal plays the older, heavy drinking, paranoid, and manipulative country icon with a charm that will make you both love and hate her character. Underneath the calculations and depraved mind games is a vulnerable woman who has been dealt a horrible hand by the music industry she and her late sister both loved. Is she really a villain, or simply someone who sees the truth of the matter regarding the way the world often treats certain kinds of women, and those that find themselves, as she says, “on the wrong side of 35”? Grant as the director creates a story that allows the audience to come to their own conclusions in that regard.

Harper’s plight, and that of the young women doing whatever it takes to “make it,” despite the danger, could be seen as a horror-tinged allegory to what female artists go through in an entertainment industry that is infamous for using up and spitting out talented women. Specifically to the entertainment industry as a whole, there is a refusal by (usually men) studio execs to recognize the ability of women-led and created stories to get moviegoers in seats. This is despite studies that have shown how well movies with women and people of color leads usually perform better than movies that lack this feature.

Women make up half of the population, yet in 2021, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, the percentage of films featuring female protagonists was 31%. Females made up 34% of all speaking roles, while males accounted for 66%. A whopping 85% of films featured more male characters than female characters. And these percentages go lower for women the older their characters become. When it comes to the more specific country music scene, the odds aren’t much better.

Despite big-name female-led musical acts like Dolly Parton, Dixie Chicks, and Taylor Swift, one too many stories have emerged in recent years of there still being gendered gatekeeping in the world of country music. In 2015 country radio consultant Keith Hill infamously commented on the lack of women being played on country music radio by claiming women artists were “not the lettuce in the salad,” but rather the “tomatoes” and it was better for ratings to play more men. Truly, sexism is a real monster.

For decades now we’ve seen movements come along where female solidarity has helped to make significant progress. This idea of radical sisterhood seems almost essential in times where one too many laws are still being placed on a woman’s body. Torn Hearts shows just how fatal it can be when sisterhood is not honored, and when one too many women believe that there isn’t enough room for all of them at the table of success. It’s a wicked story of characters whose original sin seemed to be having the nerve to dream for something more.

With all that said, and digging into the deeper symbolism I saw in the film, I feel it’s important to point out that Torn Hearts still manages to be a lot of fun! If you’re a fan of tense scenes, quick wit, and interesting women characters, then you will enjoy the movie. The third act feels a bit rushed as it would have been better to draw out the transformation of some of the characters, but overall it is a tight movie that doesn’t wander too far from its central plot.

Torn Hearts is available on Digital release on Paramount Home Entertainment May 20, 2022.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.