Eula Baek (Chantelle Han) and Morris Weiss (Charles Boyland) are in a relationship — and quite obviously not a happy one, judging from their constant sniping and bickering — and are driven to desperation during the COVID lockdown for her titular restaurant and his bar. They hatch a plan to scam veteran Captain Reuben Lom (Michael Copeman) — who lives in a very rural area and who was friends with Eula’s father — into giving them some valuable truffles that they can resell to try to make ends meet. Morris gets greedy and aggressive, and suddenly the three people are fighting for their lives. Peppergrass (Canada, 2021) toys with the “home invasion goes south” style of fear fare before diving headlong into survival horror, but rather than fully committing to the more grueling side of the latter, focuses instead on being more of a dread-filled mood piece with lots of wandering around in the woods. Codirectors Steven Garbas and Han bring a good deal of style to their film, with a brooding edge hanging over the proceedings, fine cinematography from Grant Cooper, and an evocative score by Todor Kobakov. Han and Boyland give solid performances but their characters are wholly unlikable — a common problem in several films in which home invaders are supposed to be protagonists — eliminating or at least decreasing any investment in characters and their outcome that viewers might have. Overall, however, Peppergrass offers enough unpredictability and chilling flair to make it worth seeking out.
Flee the Light
Psychology student Andra (Annie Tuma), the older sister of troubled Delfi (Ariana Marquis), tries to help her younger sibling, who suffers from visions. When a therapist uses hypnotism to try to get to the root of Delfi’s issues, something disturbing happens and the girls get involved with a mysterious woman over the phone, leading to Delfi having an epiphany in the woods and the sisters falling prey to dark supernatural forces in an esoteric night club. Director Alexandra Senza’s Flee the Light, written by Jennifer Mancini, is a tale of witchcraft that starts out as more of a drama and time-hopping mystery before later heading into straight-ahead possession horror. Tuma and Marquis give convincing performances as the sisters, and both get chances to stretch from their initial characterizations as the story progresses. Musician Jane Siberry gives an interesting turn as a mystifying woman whose character would be unfair to spoil here. The pacing is well done, starting as a slower burn before heading into suspenseful territory.
Peppergrass and Flee the Light screen as part of Blood in the Snow Film Festival, which runs in Toronto, Canada from November 18–23, 2021. For more information, visit https://www.bloodinthesnow.ca/.