Honestly, I was going to pass on Peppergrass. The plot description sounded like another home invaders finding out that what’s inside is more dangerous than they are story. And that’s something I’d seen many times before, The People Under the Stairs, Nefarious, Killers Within and, of course, Don’t Breathe. But then I got an announcement from Black Fawn saying they’d picked it up for distribution and I got curious. As it turned out it wasn’t what the description made it sound like, but was that a change for the better?
Eula Baek (Chantelle Han, Black Summer, Circle of Steel) is getting desperate. Not only is she pregnant, COVID lockdown has killed off most of the business for her café Peppergrass. It hasn’t done Morris’ (Charles Boyland, Goosebumps, Becky) bar any favours either.
So, rather than apply for any of the various government aid programs, they decide to heist a priceless truffle from Captain Reuben Lom (Michael Copeman, Scanners III: The Takeover, Death to Smoochy), a reclusive veteran who was friends with her father.
I had issues right from the go with Peppergrass. Its two leads, Eula and Morris are anything but likeable and we spend almost all of the film with them. And while you can get away with making your protagonists criminals they usually have to be likeable and charismatic. Instead, she’s bland and insipid, he’s an asshole who whines about the lockdown and business but still seems to have cash for cigarettes and lots of cocaine. So when their plans go south it’s really hard to care.
Directors Steven Garbas and Chantelle Han working from a script by Garbas and Philip Irwin, have the elements of a successful thriller at their fingertips. A crime gone wrong, someone in need of medical help, a pissed off and armed victim and lots of cold, dark woods. But they can’t manage to pull it all together. Neither of the leads is sympathetic and Rueben is essentially a non character. There’s nobody to identify with, and almost nothing actually happens.
After a brief flurry of excitement, we spend the next twenty minutes wandering around the woods with Eula as she tries to avoid freezing to death long enough to find civilization and help. Unfortunately changing from a home invasion/crime film to a survival thriller doesn’t improve Peppergrass much. If they had even tossed in a few shots to suggest Rueben was stalking her through the dark forest there might have been some suspense. Instead, the only suspense we get is whether or not she can make herself eat a worm.
If Peppergrass had billed itself as a drama or had a more accurate synopsis, I may have liked it better. But as it stands it conjures up expectations of suspense and scares that it can’t deliver. For the most part, it doesn’t even try. By the time we’re getting told a drunken campfire tale about how deadly Rueben is and how many bodies may be buried in his basement the film is almost over. It’s a setup for a final confrontation that’s way too little, way too late.
More of a character study of an uninteresting character than anything else, Peppergrass left me thoroughly underwhelmed. It does have some nice footage of the woods at night, but dark woods alone aren’t scary.
Peppergrass made its debut at this year’s Nightmares Film Festival and will play on Friday, November 19th as part of the Blood in the Snow Film Festival, you can get ticket information on their website. Black Fawn Films plan to release it sometime early next year, you can check the film’s Facebook page or Black Fawn’s website for announcements of a date.