Peppergrass (2021)

Rating: C

Dir: Steven Garbas, Chantelle Han
Star: Chantelle Han, Charles Boyland, Michael Copeman, Philip Williams

This is an odd animal. It starts as a social drama, turns into a home invasion film, where we are expected to side with the invaders, then becomes a wilderness survival movie. I’m not sure any of them quite work, though all have their moments. It’s all stuffed full of COVID-19 references too, which seem weirdly dated now. I’m sure they made sense at the time this was made, but in 2023, they feel not so different from people discussing gout and dropsy. It begins with Eula (Han) and Morris (Boyland), who run a struggling restaurant and bar respectively. Desperate times call for desperate measures: specifically, heisting valuable truffles from a reclusive friend of the family, Captain Reuben Lom (Copeman), who lives deep in the Canadian backwoods.

This is an endeavour for which they are ill-equipped. Eula is cautious, almost to a fault. Morris, on the other hand, is reckless to a very definite fault. He’s also a dick. Can’t criticize Boyland’s performance, as it’s clearly intentional. But boy, is Morris a grating and obnoxious turd. It’s a blessing when, inevitably, the attempted removal of high-priced fungi goes wrong. For the entire second half, he is confined to being propped up against a tree, all but forgotten. The film switches focus to concentrate almost entirely on Eula, as she tries to escape the aggrieved truffle hunter and his pig. I was hoping this might turn into a Canuck version of Razorback: no such real luck. I was standing by, ready to call the film Peppa Pig too. Hey, if Winnie the Pooh can go psycho…

Back in the reality of the movie, events largely unfold wordlessly from that point, save for a section where Eula meets another reclusive resident of the woods (Williams) and they talk for an extended period. Mostly about COVID-19,  or perhaps it just seemed that way. I will say, for a movie where a significant percentage takes place mostly at night, director of photography Grant Cooper does a bang-up job of shooting things in a way the viewer can still see what’s happening. Evil Dead Rise could certainly have learned some valuable lessons from this. I also should add, for a film with a lot of chatting and a lot of wandering around in the forest… it’s not as dull as that might make it sound.

It does probably need more “stuff” to happen, however. It takes too long to get the meat of the proceedings, the makers apparently believing a bulk order of dialogue is the same thing as character-building. It isn’t, especially when the conversation is banal stuff like Morris whining about not being allowed to smoke in the car. We know he’s a douche. This has already been well established. More direct conflict pitting Eula against the Cap’n (and Peppa!) would have been welcome too. I’m hard-pushed to feel the use of truffles as a Macguffin, is novel enough to make the film stand out in a crowded field.