Torn Hearts (2022) Movie Explained: Hollywood horror was once replete with older women and now the subgenre of hag horror or “Hagsploitation” or “psycho-biddy” cinema is resurrecting in which a former actress or artist, now older and insane, torments those around her. Epitomized in films like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962), Dead Ringer (1964), Strait-Jacket (1964), and Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), hag horror transforms the glamorous grand dame into an antagonistic villain. In modern-day horror, the employment of “hagsploitation” is evident in Ti West’s slasher X (2022), and Ari Aster’s horror Hereditary (2018).
American actor-turned-director Brea Grant’s third feature film Torn Hearts brings the “hagsploitation” picture back onto the B-movie stage. The film is also distinctive for its fusion of country music into the horror space and for taking advantage of the familiar conventions of Gothic literature such as decaying mansions, madness, and doppelgangers/counterparts. Written by newcomer Rachel Koller Croft, Torn Hearts is a cautionary tale set in Nashville, Tennessee, the heart of country music, and follows the duo Leigh and Jordan who seek out their idol, a grande dame, in a private mansion and end up in a twisted cycle of horrors. They are forced to confront the limits they would embark on to achieve fame and stardom.
Torn Hearts is elevated by the wicked and twisted performance of Katey Sagal who is tortured by her past. The film thematically examines the subject of love and loss, the fear of abandonment, conniving ambition, the horrors of guilt, and seeking atonement for one’s sins. It also challenges the myth of unswerving sisterly bonds and the corrupting force of fame. This thriller/psychological horror also serves as a meta-narrative about the insensitive treatment of women by show business dominated by men.
This write-up attempts to provide a holistic understanding of the film along with its themes and motifs. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Refrain from reading the article and save it for later if you haven’t watched the movie. Happy Reading!
Torn Hearts Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:
Torn Hearts opens with a flashback sequence, a VHS recording from 1993, featuring sisters Hope Dutch (Alon McKlveen) and Harper Dutch (Sailor Larocque), the country duo popular by their stage name “The Duchess Sisters.” The televised interview, which was recorded right after the pair were named Best New Artists by the Country Music Association, shows the sisters at the peak of their popularity, sporting bouffant wigs and sequin and fringe outfits reminiscent of 90’s country fashion. Hope is the singer of the sibling duo, a pretty face with beauty and grace while Harper is the singer-songwriter, endowed with the creative brain to compose lyrics for their songs.
In the interview, when Hope is asked whether she is planning for a solo album, Hope admits that Harper is the real artist and she couldn’t have achieved anything without her sister. Harper retorts by saying that they are a good team and praises the voice of Hope. Hope credits the God-given gift and her long showers for her singing voice as she often tends to sing in her shower. When the interviewer asks them whether they get into fights, she confesses that they get into fights just like any other sisters as they have their share of disagreements and conflicts. But Hope considers their combo as a blessing, to have someone on this crazy journey who knows each other quite well. Harper agrees with her sister and acknowledges, “no one understands you like your sister.” While they mention their plans of being right on top in the country music, the scene shifts presumably to the Dutch manor, the residence of the sisters, where from behind a door, we hear a gunshot followed by blood seeping from under the door.
WHO ARE LEIGH AND JORDAN?
In the present, Torn Hearts takes place within Nashville’s country music scene and we are introduced to the talented duo Leigh Black House (Alexxis Lemire) and Jordan Wilder (Abby Quinn), the lead singer and songwriter, respectively, of rising Nashville band “Torn Hearts.” They are more than best friends and have been living and working together to get a big break in the music industry. They are performing their song “Love Me Anyway” in a nightclub while the band manager/Leigh’s older boyfriend with caddish tendencies Richie Raleigh Jones (Joshua Leonard) has invited famed pop-country singer Caleb Crawford (Shiloh Fernandez) to see the duo play. Richie is hoping that Caleb will want “Torn Hearts” for his upcoming summer tour’s opening act and they will have the spotlight they have been yearning for a long time.
Leigh and Jordan, who believe that they have what it takes to become the superstars of country music, consider this an opportunity and angle toward convincing Caleb. While Leigh and Richie retire early, Jordan and Caleb strike up a conversation. When Caleb gets a lot of attention from the patrons, Jordan asks Caleb whether he likes being famous. When he answered in the affirmative, Jordan mentions that fame is compelling and Leigh has always been the one with stars in her eyes while she just wants to write music for the rest of her life. Jordan hooks up with him but later tells her that the label has opted for an “all-guys tour,” and Torn Hearts will not be welcome.
When Jordan catches sight of a photo of Caleb with the legendary country music star, Harper Dutch (Katey Sagal), one half of the singing duo who became a recluse following the tragic death of her sister Hope Dutch, she asks for the address of Harper as a consolation prize for the wasted evening. When Caleb enigmatically claims that Harper is not as endearing as everyone thinks she is, Jordan ignores the warning and proceeds to think about collaborating with Harper. Jordan talks Leigh into ditching a recording session set up by Richie to approach her idol, to come out of retirement, and somehow persuade her to record a song with them. Reluctant at meeting a stranger, Leigh thinks of asking the advice of Richie. But Jordan tells her that they are in this together and says “high highs low lows”, using Leigh’s favorite Dutchess Sisters song to reassure her. Leigh agrees as the Dutch Sisters were her favorite artists and it was her lifelong dream to meet at least one of them.
WHAT DO LEIGH AND JORDAN FIND AT THE DUTCH MANOR?
Leigh and Jordan drive to find the Dutch manor with Dutchess Sisters’ favorite strawberry rhubarb pie without letting Richie know of their plans. They find the old and worn-out mansion sequestered at the end of an old dirt road behind a pink mailbox and a wrought-iron gate overgrown with weeds. They ring the old buzzer with enthusiasm and hope and Harper responds. They introduce themselves as contemporary country musicians trying to make it in the world of music. Jordan asks whether she will be willing to give them some advice from a woman who has seen it all. They are buzzed in. The gate swings open, locking with a loud click behind them.
They enter the mansion and find a mannequin wearing Hope Dutch’s tour outfit from their first live album. Soon after, Harper Dutch makes her appearance downstairs and the duo tries to impress her by complimenting her music and her outfit. They offer the pie they brought to Harper, but she mentions that strawberry rhubarb was Hope’s favorite. Harper asks the pair which one of them is a better musician and the duo responds that they are partners and equals. Leigh and Jordan share the motive for their visit. Harper asks a series of questions to the pair to get to know them. Harper takes notice that Leigh is the singer and observes how she mixes her drink with her little finger. Harper finds similarities between Leigh and Hope and identifies herself with Jordan.
WHAT MADE HARPER SMASH HER GUITAR?
Harper expresses her wish to hear them sing and takes them to her private music room where all her prized instruments are kept. She asks them to pick their poison. Jordan picks up the guitar from the ’93 tour and starts to tune it. Leigh goes to touch the microphone but Harper reprimands her. When Jordan mentions that she sang a lot in the shower when she was a teenager, Harper is more intrigued. When Jordan was about to sing an original song, Leigh objects and opts for The Duchess Sisters’ song “Highs and Lows.” Harper stops them midway and agrees to record a song with them. Harper takes her guitar back from Jordan and smashes it repeatedly on the table to celebrate the deal.
When Leigh steps out to take a call from Richie, Harper tries to turn Jordan against Leigh. Harper tells Jordan that girls like them have to work harder to make it and announces that “it’s tough being the other one.” Harper is trying to create a rivalry between the two friends when she says that Leigh is the one upfront and Jordan is the one in the back doing all of the work. When Jordan says that they both work hard, Harper expresses her dissent. When Harper tries to kill a small critter, she cuts Jordan’s finger. Jordan is spooked by the strange and unsettling behavior of Harper.
HOW DID LEIGH AND JORDAN MEET?
Leigh narrates the story of how the band came together two years ago at the famed Bluebird Cafe. When they were waiting around to get onstage, Jordan was called up as the last act of the day. Leigh started crying and a sympathetic Jordan invited Leigh up with her. It surprised Harper that Jordan shared her coveted slot with a stranger. Harper starts praising Leigh by saying that she has something extra special and calls her “a star.” The conversation turns towards Leigh’s boyfriend and Harper learns from Jordan that Richie is Leigh’s boyfriend, whom Harper had called a prick earlier. Again, Harper finds Leigh a lot similar to Hope as Hope too had a lot of older boyfriends and they were controlled by a bunch of men who treated them like workhorses.
Harper expresses her sadness over the loss of her sister saying that she tried to help her. She also mentions that she is punishing herself every day since her demise. When Leigh asks her not to blame for Hope committing suicide, Harper tells her that Hope took her life in front of her. They lighten the mood by playing cards, singing songs, and dancing in a booze-fueled mood. Harper watches the duo closely and studies them, planning something viciously.
WHAT DID JORDAN SEE THROUGH THE KEYHOLE?
Jordan wakes up the next morning to find herself in bed with her clothes miraculously changed by someone. She doesn’t remember how she ended up in bed. She searches the rundown mansion for Leigh but finds Harper talking to someone in a room through the keyhole. Harper was talking about Leigh and how she stirred the drink and licked her finger just like Hope. Jordan finds it odd and concludes that she was talking to her dead sister Hope. Leigh finds Jordan and she is also wearing similar tour shirts and pants.
Sensing the strange and suspicious behavior of Harper, Jordan proposes that she and Leigh leave, but Leigh insists on staying. Harper asks them to make breakfast for her as a note of gratitude but there were limited options as the groceries have gotten stale and rotten. Again, Harper throws a tantrum over breakfast by flinging the plate on the wall over the duo’s heads. Harper apologizes to Jordan when she starts to leave and continues to hang the promise of recording a song with her and compels them to stay.
WHAT DID JORDAN FIND IN THE SECRET ROOM?
Harden gets Jordan and Leigh drunk again. Harper continues to use mind games to deepen the rift between the two friends by exploiting their varying opinions about Leigh’s relationship with their manager Richie. Harper then gives another shot to impress her and convinces the pair to vent their frustrations by violently fighting each other. While Leigh accuses Jordan of lacking a vision for the band as well as thinking of herself as better than Leigh, Jordan insists that she cares about the band as well as their future. We see the long-time friends, no less than sisters wrestle and hit each other until Jorden is overpowered by Leigh.
Richie shows up at the mansion all of a sudden looking for Jordan and Leigh. Harper locks Jordan in the basement as Jordan doesn’t like Richie. Harper and Leigh go upstairs to talk to Richie. Leigh tells Harper that what happened in the basement couldn’t be further from the truth and they are like sisters. Speaking from her own experience, Harper says that sisters can get heated up over the littlest of things. Harper confronts her about their fortuitous meeting and asks how many girls before she picked Jordan. Leigh admits that she picked Jordan after “four or five” girls. Leigh also knows that she wouldn’t have achieved whatever she had without Jordan. Harper discloses that she misses Hope blames herself for her demise and demands help from Leigh to fix it. Harper vaguely tells Leigh that Harper is Jordan and Hope is Leigh.
In the meantime, Jordan discovers a secret room painted in pink dedicated to Hope hidden behind a bookcase. Among the mementos, Jordan finds a book of songs written by Hope, two pistols, and jars containing severed body parts of Hope. When she sees an eyeball in one of the jars, she horrendously drops the jar. Jordan mindfully uses Hope’s severed finger to open an electronic lock that frees her from the basement.
HOW DID RICHIE DIE?
Richie is welcomed by Harper and Leigh. Harper asks a favor from Richie in getting back out there in the music business. Having freed herself from the basement, Jordan overhears Richie scheming with the other two women to make a new duo out of Leigh and Harper, leaving Jordan out of the equation. When Richie talks about the rumor going around Harper, she gets upset. When Leigh goes to the kitchen to get more drinks, Jordan confronts her. Jordan dismally tells her that she never expected Leigh to lock her in the basement and trade her in for Harper. She also tries to explain what she found in the basement, but Leigh refuses to listen to Jordan’s hypothesis that Harper killed Hope.
Meanwhile, Richie overruns his mouth to Leigh by saying that this opportunity with Leigh is the best shot to get back in the mainstream after being gone all these years, Harper is visibly annoyed and displeased. When he continues to talk about the stardust that Hope had and how she will now be a strong old hand behind Leigh, she stabs Richie to death in pure rage. Jordan realizes that Harper is sick and is trying to turn them against each other. She insists on getting out of there but Leigh is adamant about staying as Leigh is swayed by Harper’s psychological games and says that Harper sees the star power in her to succeed.
TORN HEARTS MOVIE ENDING EXPLAINED:
WHAT HAPPENED TO HOPE?
After killing Richie, Harper finds the two women arguing in the living room. Quite contrasting to what was said earlier, Harper says that she needs the artistry of Jordan and the star power of Leigh, much to the delight of Leigh. They together record the last song that Hope wrote. Afterward, Harper takes Jordan and Leigh to her bedroom where she gives them stage outfits and has them put on makeup. Jordan observes Harper saying “almost there” to a photograph of Hope. Leigh and Jordan resume arguing antagonistically. While Leigh indicts Jordan for acting like caring about the band and her, Jordan taunts Leigh about who would write the songs for her if she leaves.
Harper declares her belief that Hope brought the duo to her so that Harper could have her redemption by “evening things out.” Just when Jordan apologizes to Leigh, Harper appears with a shotgun and starts terrorizing the duo, causing them to run downstairs. They stumble upon Richie’s dead body and also find the doors locked. Jordan tries to kill Harper with the knife used to stab Richie, but she is unsuccessful. Together, they flee to the basement and collect the pistols Jordan discovered earlier. Harper hallucinates hearing and seeing Hope and tells her that it is time for her to “atone.” Jordan and Leigh use the distraction to knock Harper to the floor. When Jordan and Leigh are hesitant to shoot their idol, the standoff gives Harper the leeway to tell them that she needs their help to atone for killing Hope.
Harper confesses that she killed Hope because her sister was threatening to go solo at the encouragement of the label once they started losing the audience. She had wanted to leave the band and do something for herself. She wanted to buy a new house and wanted to tour alone. She killed Hope when she realized that she will be unable to cope with Hope leaving the band. She might have known that she wouldn’t be able to be as famous as she was when they were performing together. Her tragic death and a sister in mourning would make the ideal story for Harper to bring about a rise in record sales. So after murdering her, she covered it up as a suicide. However, Harper was not ready to let go of Hope, she cut Hope into pieces and stored each piece separately, indicating her possessive nature towards Hope.
DO JORDAN AND LEIGH SURVIVE?
Harper explains how she is going to atone for the death of Harper. She tells Leigh that she has to make it and pursue everything Hope couldn’t do in her life. Leigh will walk away with an incredible and sympathetic story that will help her launch her solo career. She will also have Hope’s songs to complement her success story. Harper says that to atone, Harper and Jordan must die. Harper insists on shooting each other on the count of three, but Jordan shoots Harper before she can fire her shotgun. At the same time, Leigh also shoots Jordan in the stomach ascertaining the fact that Leigh’s want for fame was much more than her love for Jordan.
As Jordan bleeds out, Leigh becomes dazed by the story she makes up of surviving the tragedy and how it will help her songs claim the top spots on the charts. When Leigh would have a tragic story to tell the world, more people would listen to her songs and she will have her coveted popularity. Before Leigh can leave the Dutch manor, a fatally wounded Jordan retrieves Harper’s shotgun and uses it to kill Leigh. Jordan and Leigh drop dead. They both lost their lives at each other’s hands, just like they were yearning for fame together. In the final sequence, we see Caleb Crawford exploiting his connection with Harper and the Torn Hearts band to earn his fame. He brings the music of Torn Hearts and the final song the trio recorded back to life in tribute to all four women and it sets the pace for his thriving career.
TORN HEARTS MOVIE THEMES EXPLAINED:
THE TOXIC PURSUIT OF FAME AND STARDOM:
Torn Hearts explores the dark underbelly of the entertainment industry in which aspiring starlets fall prey to the greatest human weakness, that is, the toxic lust for fame and stardom. In their mindless and uncontrolled longing for fame, some tend to become too narcissistic and consign to oblivion their friendships and relationships. They betray and sacrifice the most loved ones at the altar of fame to achieve greatness and distinction. The film highlights the gruesome toll it can take on seeking fame at the expense of hurting others. Harper chased fame after killing her sister and likewise, Leigh tried to achieve stardom by selling the tragedy of her idol and bandmate. However, they couldn’t reap the benefit as Harper felt guilty for killing her sister as she was haunted by the memories of her. Underneath Leigh’s pretty exterior, we get to witness her self-centered and greedy nature and conniving ambition which, in turn, makes Jordan kill her before she finally succumbed to death.
THE MYTH OF UNWAVERING SISTERHOOD:
Torn Hearts challenges the myth of unwavering loyalty and the everlasting love of sisterhood. This women-centric film traverses the downside of personal and professional jealousy and betrayal witnessed in siblings or friends pursuing the same goal or end. The film showcases the rivalry between sisters Hope and Harper in which Harper goes to the extent of killing Hope out of rage and betrayal for abandoning her in her pursuit of fame. Likewise, Leigh and Jordan, long-time friends and no less than sisters, also fall into the trap of monopolizing stardom and fame themselves. It details the extent of feminist solidarity in green-eyed and self-seeking individuals which fuels the conflict between the singer duo Leigh and Jordan. This psychodrama tests the limits of their friendship and allegiance by making them turn against each other and they succumb to the charms of fame and celebrity culture.