With a bruised fist that just lost her her job at Inside L.A. Magazine, cub journalist Sloan Sawyer (Lelia Symington) finds herself temporarily unemployed, so agrees, when summoned by a phone call, to return to her home town of Santa Lucia in California’s wine-growing hinterlands. There, someone has been intimidating the migrant workers at the Gold Rush vineyard, a family business owned by Sloan’s stepfather Arthur Stendhal (Sidney Symington). Accordingly, Sloan will transform into a dry-quipping, tough-as-nails ‘tec in the punningly titled Brut Force, as she uncovers not only the sour grapes from which this town’s history has fermented but also the domestic dysfunction which led her to flee in the first place.
In other words, Eve Symington’s feature debut is a small-town, sun-drenched neo noir, in which our heroine – both an outsider and an insider – will expose a community’s dark secrets and embedded tensions. For as anonymous threats and harassment spill over into vandalism and violence, and as Arthur’s young employee Dulce Lopez Castillo (Vico Escorcia) vanishes, Sloan will join forces with charming stranger Tico Reyes (Tyler Posey) to find the missing girl, dealing with anti-immigrant suburbanites, corrupt police, a rival vineyard run by the formidable femme fatale Mariela Vacuña (Patricia Velasquez), and her own conflicted feeling towards her damaged family.
Indeed Brut Force is a family affair – and not just because its writer/director is related to two of her leads. Locals are surprised to see Sloan back in town, given that she fled to the Big City as soon as she was old enough, and left again within hours of returning for her mother’s funeral. Yet Sloan has unfinished business there – and along the way she will encounter serial sabotage, double-crosses and unexpected alliances, in a convoluted scenario where blood is always thicker than water, and wine thicker than both. After all, wine, is, with all its complex notes and subtle aroma, the ultimate expression of a place’s true history.
Derived etymologically from the word for ‘land’, terroir is the French term used for the habitat, environmental factors and farming practices which together give rise to a wine’s essential character. Brut Force is a film about terroir. “The land remembers,” as local historian Lettie (Janice Peters) puts it – or, as Arthur will later insist, “This is blood-soaked land.” For Sloan’s investigation sets her treading earth which has been scarred by its past of colonial depredation, slavery and tenacious racial tensions. Indeed, this local past reduces and bottles the persistent hints of a broader American history – an allegory in microcosm of a nation growing from the dirt of its own misdeeds. Surrounded by dynasties keen to secure, however illegitimately, their succession, Sloan and Tico will learn not to run away from, nor indeed to submit to, their respective legacies, but to embrace the possibility of generational change – which makes this a film of a deeply political flavour, where past bitterness is offset by the hope of a better future.
strap: Eve Symington’s feature debut is a femme-driven ‘terroir noir’ set in California’s sun-drenched, history-stained vineyards
© Anton Bitel