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.