Tag Archives: Canadian movies

Some Pig


by Hope Madden

The pandemic was tough on everybody. Eula (Chantelle Han) lost her grandpa, made a bad decision with her bartender friend (Charles Boyland), and may lose her restaurant if things don’t turn around.

So, at the height of lockdown, these two restauranteurs takeoff into the night with a mysterious letter sent just after Grandpa died by a recluse he saved during the war. They decide to drive that letter 20 hours to the recluse’s acreage where they hope to find him and some truffles.

Really, really valuable truffles.

In the hands of co-directors Han and Steven Garbas, Peppergrass is, on the surface, a kind of backwoods culinary heist movie – which is more than intriguing enough. But the film, which Garbas co-wrote with Philip Irwin, delivers more than that.

The film is beautifully shot, from the somber color and framing of the urban opening act to the purposeful camera and sound work throughout the balance of the forest-heavy second and third acts.

Han’s Eula – in charge, no nonsense, desperate – anchors the film beautifully. The perfect counterbalance, Boyland plays at being the harmless dumbass. Thanks to a lived-in chemistry between the two actors and Boyland’s committed performance, you never root against his Morris no matter how much you want to smack him.

The script is clever, sometimes roughly funny, often surprising. Tonal shifts can be a problem, but generally Garbas and Han move smoothly, their framing and pace matching the swiftly shifting genre. Peppergrass swings from heist to horror to survival tale and back again, losing its footing only rarely.

Fear of contagion timestamps the film, but it also generates a kind of paranoia that heightens tension – the kind of tensions suited to backwoods survival tales. But Peppergrass’s greatest strength is how deftly it tells its real story – the one motivating the heist, which is never discussed outright, though it haunts the film.

Tense, surprising and delightfully unusual, Peppergrass is a gem of a thriller worth seeking out.

Agnes, Sweet Agnes

Poor Agnes

by Hope Madden

Small town sociopath, isolated farmhouse on land littered with rusted out car carcasses, a basement freezer full of human heads—Poor Agnes has all the trappings of your garden variety serial killer flick.

All but one: Lora Burke.

Burke plays Agnes, a woman who knows what she likes.

The film plays out like the origin story of some unstoppable slasher, and that works pretty well. Director Navin Rameswaran complicates his narrative and Agnes’s life with a side trip into Stockholm syndrome territory.

Agnes spends her days either chopping wood or injecting men with a concoction featuring “rat poison, mostly.” But she takes a liking to would-be victim Mike (Robert Notman), a low-rent private investigator whom no one will miss.

Rather than dispatching him quickly, Agnes indulges her inclination to play God and see how well she can re-mold Mike in her own image. Things seem to go smoothly until their twosome becomes a threesome.

While Burke’s unapologetically convincing, Notman’s performance is less so. Maybe his metamorphosis is too truncated by James Gordon Ross’s script, or maybe Notman can’t manage to sell the transformation. Whichever, too often his behavior feels utterly false. What we needed out of Notman was a version of Patty Hearst, but his face is a blank slate, his actions inauthentic.

That’s a real problem for this film because a tangy villain can only carry a story so far. Burke’s turn commands attention. She’s unafraid to be profoundly unlikeable, but she’s never over-the-top. It’s an alarmingly natural, more alarmingly believable portrait of a psychopath.

It’s probably reason enough to see the film.