We chat with the director about her one-of-a-kind country music horror flick and how it exposes the anxiety surrounding a slowly changing creative industry.
By Brad Gullickson Published June 12, 2022
Check the Gate is a recurring column where we meet directors one-on-one in an effort to uncover the reasoning behind their creative decisions. Why this topic? Why this blow? In this edition, we chat with Brea Grant about Torn Hearts, the one-of-a-kind country music horror film.
Humans are deadliest when trapped or about to succeed. We’ll do just about anything to survive, and we’ll do absolutely anything when we’re inches away from realizing a childhood dream. When the fantasy feels years away, we’re cool and determined. When fantasy appears minutes away from manifesting into a reality, we are nervous and vicious little beasts.
Torn Hearts is a mean, passionate and honest horror set in the Nashville music scene. Alexis Lemire and Abby Quinn play as a country duo struggling to establish themselves in the city. Each concert brings them closer, but their recent victories quickly turn into failures. When they locate Katey Sagalan icon on many fronts, the duo hope to absorb his mojo and use it to solidify their careers.
After directing two feature films, she had also scripted (best friends forever, 12 hour shift), Brea Grant clinging to Torn hearts. Written by Rachel Koller Croft, the film digs into plenty of creative insecurities, using those squishy emotions to thrust its characters and audience into a wild confrontation. Three women are locked in a house, each carrying a secret, each carrying a desire. Torn hearts is brutally entertaining, leaning heavily on its overly capable performers, and allows Grant to exorcise a few demons.
“It was less about the competition,” says Grant, “and more about how these industries pit us against each other, whether or not we wanted to fall into that trap. I fall into this trap all the time. I have friends who are very successful. I’ve dated people who are very successful and do much better than me. And yeah, there’s definitely a part of me that’s starting to feel jealousy, but also a part of me that finds motivation in that, pushes me a little bit.
Brea responded passionately to Croft’s script, appreciating how the narrative moved away from judgment and showcased empathy for how each character landed in their roles. There is a system that weighs Torn hearts‘horrors, an antagonistic force that crushes these three women in violent conflict. Grant never wanted to lose sight of the enemy.
“When I was reading the script,” she continues, “it was more about these three women, coming to it from three different perspectives. They had all learned something different – it would allow them to become the artist they wanted to be. For me, it was about showing how some of them bought into the system, how some were trying to circumvent the system and how they were trying to figure it out. But at the end of the day, they are all screwed because it’s not a good system.
Grant was excited to delve into Croft’s storyline. Stepping away from something that didn’t come from his pen turned out to be no different than any other project. She simply fell into her work the day before.
“What’s interesting about my career,” says Grant, “is that I started out as an actor. So, I’m really used to taking other people’s material and interpreting it and making it my own. I think that’s one of my strongest skills because I’ve been acting for so many years. That’s all you do as an actor; you take other people’s words, try to make them believable, or try to sell them and get across the message they’re trying to get across.
Every film is a team. These are not novels. These are not comics. Hundreds of hands come together on a set, and the film is the result of this tangled gathering.
“It was about reading Rachel’s script,” Grant continues, “thinking about what she was trying to do and thinking about how I could customize it and do things that I was really looking forward to doing. “I think it’s just a matter of working together. I’ve been very lucky over the last few years.”
Grant didn’t have much prep time on Torn Hearts. By the time she pitched her take to Blumhouse and signed on to the film, the director had less than four weeks to put together and solidify her perspective.
“I found the easiest way was to create one big document with all my influences,” Grant says. “It had all my inspirations, what I felt were the themes and how we could express that in the visual language. Whether it’s through costumes, whether it’s through little things or trinkets that you see around the house. It was great because the system they have for these movies is that it’s the same team, but they swap the director and the DP every time. This team had already made four of these films, but I gave them this stuff and I was like, “This is my film”. Here’s what that movie will look like. They were great on board for it and brought their own stuff.
Torn hearts commands his audience to open their eyes and prick up their ears. As tensions rise and violence inserts itself as a possible solution for those in the country icon’s mansion, we must be fully aware of the invisible hand guiding events. Right from the start, within Grant’s totemic lookbook, a concern emerges.
“The commodification of the female body is a theme,” Grant says. “It’s just something that you think of when you think of putting women on stage, putting women on screen. And so, I thought, one of the ways we could express that was not not just through those body parts, which were already in the script – spoiler – there are loose body parts in this house, which Rachel wrote in, but also by putting the female form in the house. lots of models. There’s a lot of jewelry. There’s a loose tiara as well as pictures of women all over the house. I felt they would express that idea of the female body throughout the film, so you don’t never thought of showing women in the ideal way.
Brea Gant expresses hesitation about whether an audience will join her with Torn hearts. The system has barely widened its path, allowing new voices to be heard. There is excitement in the possibilities and the thirst for original perspectives, but a weariness. The path can close much faster than it opened.
“It’s such an interesting time to be a woman doing art right now in these various industries,” Grant says. “There are women who had to show up in the industry when it was a place where we didn’t even recognize that women should have a voice, and now we’re pushing female voices.”
Depending on the year a creator entered the field, their point of view is radically different. Every woman tinkers Torn Hearts brought a unique philosophy and interpretation to the script. The film is the result of their communion.
“It’s fascinating to see the different ways that three or five years can make a difference to how you see the industry,” she continues. “People who are five years younger than me see it completely differently than women who are five years older than me see it. That ten-year gap is so huge. I think of women as [Katey Segal’s] Harper and the things they had to do to stay in the industry, the abuse they had to endure, the things that got normalized. People ten years younger, fifteen years younger than she would ever have to – well, they still live with it but wouldn’t have to deal with it the same way. They basically said it wasn’t normal. And we’ve really done that for the last five years, which is horrible.
The trilogy of characters who clash in Torn Hearts do so fueled by their manager’s anxiety. Their conflict cuts through an incredibly tumultuous creative industry. Percolating underneath Torn hearts’ the three-way showdown is all about tremendous hope, fear, excitement, and possibility. The three protagonists are on the verge of achieving something new, and this potential stirs despair and anger.
“These generations of women experienced sexism within the industry,” Grant says. “Watching that change and the way they interpret that for themselves and how they’re supposed to be involved in it at this point, I think it’s so murky. And I think it’s hard. I wanted to push those areas grey.
Torn Hearts offers small answers. We have to find them on our own. Brea Grant, however, captures the unease that accompanies a cultural shift that may or may not occur. Through his exploration, we can navigate ours.
Oh and Torn hearts is also just a gnarly smash, satisfying those grotesque genre cravings horror hounds give off, wrapped in a country music landscape. Something you’ve probably never seen before.
Torn hearts is now available in Digital/VOD.
Related Topics: Check the Gate, Directors
Brad Gullickson is a weekly columnist for Film School Rejects and senior curator for One Perfect Shot. When he’s not talking about movies here, he’s talking about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Follow him on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He she)