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.
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.
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 / 5)