Whether acting or directing, one thing is for sure – Brea Grant has a deep love and affection for the horror genre. Having debuted her first directorial feature, 12 Hour Shift, featuring cult-horror fav, Angela Bettis, at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, Brea has since wasted no time in finding her next project. However, she could have never expected that her sophomore film, TORN HEARTS, would combine two of her favorite things; horror and country music.
In TORN HEARTS, written by Rachel Koller Croft, rising artists on the brink of a big break, will do just about anything to realize their dream – including a pilgrimage to the legendary and reclusive Harper Dutch’s (Golden Globe winner Katey Sagal) mansion in the hopes she’ll record a song with them. While their life-long idol seems intent to help, the visit devolves into a twisted series of mental and physical torment as the pair discover Harper – and each other – may have other motives. With no other choice and desperate to record a song, the duo must go to dangerous lengths to prove their dedication to their dream of becoming Nashville’s next country music stars.
Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with director Brea Grant for the release of her film, TORN HEARTS. During their chat, they discussed everything from how TORN HEARTS combined all of Grant’s interests into one film, bringing the particular Southern country music scene to life for the film, and the importance of creating imperfect women characters.
To start things off, how did this project come your way?
Brea Grant: Blumhouse had seen 12 Hour Shift, my last movie that I directed, and I’d had a meeting with them and talked with them about what I wanted to do. I was like, I’m interested in women’s stories. I love working with women over 40, women who’ve been in the industry a long time. And I love Southern stuff cause that’s where I’m from. I did not expect them to find all three. When they read the script [for TORN HEARTS] they were like, oh, we thought of you when we read the script, and I was like OF COURSE [Laughs]. I can say, I never would have thought to be like country music and horror movies — it would never have crossed my mind but Rachel crafted the script in a really interesting way. And I thought that it could work for both horror fans and maybe country music fans [Laughs]. Maybe TORN HEARTS will be a gateway drug for those who only like country music [and not horror]. I don’t know [Laughs].
In 12 Hour Shift, you focused on a drug-addicted nurse. And now with TORN HEARTS, you are focusing on a country star dealing with personal demons. What do you enjoy most about exploring complicated women in your film?
Brea Grant: This is definitely my soapbox where I feel like — we have a lot of women in horror which I think is great but a lot of times they end up being this sort of final girl or like a perfect woman with very few flaws. And I am interested in exploring women with flaws because I think in order for us to see women as fully human, we have to present them the way we presented men for so many years. Like, we idolize these men with flaws. I always bring up that show “House” because that guy sucked, and they had a whole show about him for like eight years or something like that [Laughs]. But we always have these flawed, complicated male characters and I think until we can show women that way and judge or not judge them…I tried not to judge the women in this movie too harshly, but until we can show them that way we aren’t treating them as equal characters and we’re not giving them main character status.
You mentioned that you’re originally from the South. Texas to be exact. So, what was your process like in creating the look that was needed for the film to feel Southern?
Brea Grant: Part of it’s the music, we shot in New Orleans so that was helpful. The crew was all from New Orleans for the most part, except for the cinematographer. So they brought a lot of stuff to it and they knew the world. It was really nice. Eulyn Colette Hufkie, my costume designer, she came ready. She was like, I really want to create the suit that Katey wears at the end. It’s called a Nudie Suit, which is this whole thing in country music, and she made that from scratch. She stitched it by hand. It was crazy what she did. Ryan Martin Dwyer, my production designer, he knew the world and what I was referencing. It’s those small things that I think hint that this movie takes place in this bigger world, or it does take place in the South, or in Nashville. I never actually went to Nashville to shoot this movie [Laughs].
What was the casting process like? Did you initially have Katey Sagal in mind for the role of Harper Dutch?
Brea Grant: When you start these projects they send you a list of people and Katey was on that list in the beginning. I was like, you think she’d do a horror movie? And they were like, probably not [Laughs]. I kept thinking about her, though, because she has such a range. We’ve seen her do comedy, we’ve seen her do drama, we’ve seen her be a cartoon alien, we’ve seen her do everything. And I was like, wouldn’t it be cool if she came and did this horror movie? So, I shot my shot and was like let’s see what happens. I wrote her a really nice letter and it was like, please come do this movie [Laughs]! And she read the script and was like you know, I think I could do this. She was great. It was such a wonderful experience getting to work with a god damn legend.
Abby Quinn and Alexxis Lemire both sent in tapes. I was familiar with Alexxis’ work as she was in a movie called The Half Of It that played at Tribeca 2020, the same year that 12 Hour Shift played. Then they beat us for every award, and I kept seeing things for this stupid movie and then finally saw it and was like, this is so good [Laughs]! And she’s so great in it. The camera loves her. Watching her in that movie, and then seeing her tape I was like, all right she’s great. Abby, the same thing I saw her tape and was like oh, she’s amazing. And Abby is a really great guitarist and can sing, as can Alexxis. There were a lot of great actors who sang wonderfully and I only looked at people who could sing. But when I saw those two, I felt they were great and perfect and they would totally look great together.
We’ve talked about the importance of showing flawed women on screen, especially in horror films. Is there anything else you hope people will take away from this film?
Brea Grant: First, I want it to be fun. That’s always sort of my goal. I want people to enjoy themselves. For me, it felt like when I read Rachel’s script what I took away from it — there’s all these situations where we pit women against each other and this is what happens at the end when we pit women against each other. We end up losing. Everyone loses, in real life and in movies. I wanted people not to judge these characters. I didn’t want people to think these women — they may not be making the decisions we would make, but they’re making the decisions that are right for their character. And I wanted them to be realistic versions of women struggling with an industry that has treated them like shit.
TORN HEARTS is now available on Digital from Paramount Home Entertainment.
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