Tag Archives: Brittany Allen

Honky Tonk Angels

Torn Hearts

by Hope Madden

Heartbreak, hardship, hard living and broken dreams — that sounds like a country song.

How well does it work for a horror movie? Director Brea Grant (12 Hour Shift) finds out, with an assist from effortless badass Katey Sagal in the Music City thriller Torn Hearts.

Sagal plays Harper Dutchess, country music legend and what remains of the Dutchess sisters, a duo that made it big in the 90s, before tragedy hit. Now a recluse in her Nashville mansion, Harper is none too happy to see upstarts Jordan (Abby Quinn) and Leigh (Alexxis Lemire) show up at her door hoping to record a song with her that will put them on the path to stardom.

Screenwriter Rachel Koller Croft stumbled into something fresh with the country music angle. Horror is no stranger to rock music, disco, techno, metal, punk, but country? That’s new.

Unfortunately, she repackages a lot of familiar ideas inside that Western fringe. But Grant finds ways to keep things interesting.

An authentic soundtrack of music penned by Brittany Allen grounds Torn Hearts in authenticity, while Yaron Levy’s cinematography works the creepy Dutchess mansion for all its gothic, garish Nashville weirdness.

Both Lemire and Quinn fit their roles well. As Harper picks away at the young duo’s insecurities, each performer gets the chance to show some range, both physically and emotionally.

Sagal steals the show, though. The picture of hard living, Harper manipulates the young musicians with sometimes sadistic ease. Sagal relishes the contempt, crafting a formidable central figure and ensuring rapt attention, no matter what weaknesses the film has in store.

Torn Hearts layers its somewhat rote plot points with context about the harsh misogyny of country music, points Sagal’s performance drives home.

You’re Killing Me, Smalls

It Stains the Sands Red

by Hope Madden

Given the recent, tragic passing of filmmaking icon George A. Romero, you may find yourself nostalgic for the walking dead. Not just any hungry, re-animated cadaver, but the kind that serve as a parable or vehicle for self-awareness. The slow moving kind. The kind you don’t know whether to fear, pity or admire.

It Stains the Sands Red is here for you.

Director/co-writer Colin Minihan, with co-writer Stuart Ortiz (formerly known collectively as The Vicious Brothers), tests your patience, but the effort mostly pays off.

We open with some impressive aerial shots of the smoking, neon ruin of the Las Vegas strip. Cut to another gorgeous aerial of a sports car zipping up a desert highway. In it, a couple of coked-up strip club lowlifes, Molly (Brittany Allen) and Nick (Merwin Mondesir), are escaping to an airfield where they’ll meet with other lowlifes and head to an island off Mexico.

Naturally, this isn’t going to work out. But what Minihan has in store will surprise you.

He’s made a couple of fine choices with his film. The point of view character is not only an unlikely protagonist – an unpleasant thug with a drug habit – but she’s also female.

Soon the car goes off the road and one meathead catches her scent, and suddenly Molly’s stripper shoes are not her biggest problem as she faces a 30-mile trek across the desert to the airfield.

Molly names her zombie pursuer Smalls, but she may as well call him Wilson.

What develops is an often fascinating, slow moving but relentless chase as well as a character study. With a protagonist on a perilous journey toward redemption, It Stains the Sands Red takes a structure generally reserved for the man who needs to rediscover his inner manhood and tells a very female story.

Very female. Menstruation and everything.

Credit to the formerly Vicious for investing in a female’s perspective, and for doing it some level of justice.

Allen makes a great anti-heroine. Convincingly hard-knock and difficult to like, she never becomes the would-be lunch meat you root against.

As is too often the case in film – horror, thriller or otherwise – the only way a female can tap that survival instinct is by way of the maternal one. This picture becomes too predictable and too sentimental once it embraces this cliché, but that’s not reason enough to condemn it.