“Chateau Sauvignon: terroir” (2015): Macabre Short Film Serves Up Vintage Fright

From its opening moments showing such objects as a gnarled tree branch, a cobwebbed animal skull, filthy plates, and a home in disrepair, accompanied by chilling music, director David E. Munz-Maire’s horror short Chateau Sauvignon: terroir sets up an eerie tone to which it stays true throughout.

Nicolas (Michael Lorz in a performance you won’t soon forget) lives on a winery with his parents. His mother Eartha (Pooyah Mohseni) suffers from a nasty malady and Nicolas does his best to take care of her while his father Patrick (Sean Weil) tends to the winemaking. Nicolas wants to be more active in the family business in hopes that it will help his mother’s failing health but Patrick, a man of few words but quite commanding outbursts, refuses. After a confrontation, Nicolas smirks as he walks away from his father, a sign that their power struggle will continue. Soon after, a mother (Nancy Nagrant) and her arrogant, medical school student son (Anthony Del Negro) visit the winery just before closing time. Going against his father’s wishes, Nicolas offers the duo a tour of the barrel caves.

Michael Lorz gives a chilling performance as Nicolas, a vintner’s son whose family holds morbid, disturbing secrets in Chateau Sauvignon: terroir.

I’ve deliberately left the horror elements out of my synopsis, but not to worry: there is terror, gore, and dread aplenty on offer in Chateau Sauvignon: terroir,  but exactly what kinds are best left to first-time viewings. The film absolutely oozes atmosphere. Although quite current in setting and technique, the short boasts a good, old-fashioned sense of the macabre, something that seems to be rather rare in today’s horror cinema. Oliver Anderson’s cinematography is beautiful in its portrayal of ugly, disturbing sights and happenings. The house and winery is dark and oppressive, yet somehow sunlight dramatically finds a way to occasionally shine in. It cannot, however, brighten up what occurs. Composer Rob Eletto and sound designer Mattias Murhagen provide a hair-raising, unsettling aural atmosphere.

Although all of the performances are good, Michael Lorz’s turn  as Nicolas is outstanding. With a seething frustration belied by his wide but dark-circled eyes, mild and well-spoken manner, and leisurely gait, he does what he is told but also releases frustration by lighting matches where they shouldn’t be lit. When Nicolas sees an opportunity to prove his worth to his father, Lorz plays the young man as a country-boy charmer on the outside who calmly wins over the trust of the visitors while hatching a fateful plan. Lorz brings a subtlety to his performance that makes Nicolas’ character arc all the more frightful to watch.

Patrick (Sean Weil) firmly believes that his son is not yet ready to take on further responsibilities for the family business.

David E. Munz-Maire’s direction is striking and the screenplay, which he cowrote with Allyssa Rivera-Cabrero, is taut. His short film satisfies all on its own while it left me wanting to see more of this unconventional family and its grim story. Chateau Sauvignon: terroir has picked up awards for its acting, cinematography, and score from several film festivals and it’s quite easy to understand why. Take time to savor this one when you have  the opportunity.

Chateau Sauvignon: terroir: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.