The vineyards of New South Wales form the backdrop for Crushed, a scenically staged murder mystery involving pervasively internecine family dynamics. The primarily Australian cast and regional setting predispose the film for domestic exposure, although the wine country locations may encourage overseas audiences to check out the title on digital platforms as well.
Sarah Bishop plays Ellia, a young woman who returns to her family’s vineyard in rural Mudgee to attend the funeral of her father, Robert, following his unexpected death in a freak winery accident. Arriving home, she finds her mother, Sophie (Roxane Wilson), and uncle David (Les Hill) fiercely hostile after her long absence and her younger sister Harriett (Millie Spencer-Brown) attempting to hold together the family business with the help of their brother Zac (Remy Brand). A police investigation coordinated by Ellia’s ex-boyfriend Lucas (Robert Preston) soon reveals that Robert was murdered and that the perpetrator staged the killing so it would appear that he died when barrels stored in the winery toppled over and crushed him.
Relying on circumstantial evidence related to Sophie’s plans for selling the winery that’s been in her husband’s family for more than 100 years, Lucas arrests her for Robert’s murder. As Ellia struggles to understand whether Sophie had any role in Robert’s demise, she faces hardened resentment from her family, who still blame her for the accidental death of her twin brother several years before, a tragedy that emotionally crippled her father and drove Ellia away from home. Suspicious of both her sister and mother, as well Lucas’ police investigation, Ellia feels increasingly isolated and threatened as she searches for clues to solving her father’s mysterious murder.
Riakos sets an ambitious agenda for her Kickstarter-funded first feature with a script that spins out more plot points than it can ultimately resolve (including a wide-ranging agribusiness conspiracy) while notching a surprisingly high body count for a modestly scaled mystery. Overall, she handles the principal action fairly smoothly, guiding Ellia through the requisite steps of her investigation, which Bishop pursues with a mixture of concern for the well-being of Ellia’s family and frustration with their penchant for secrecy.
Shooting on the property of Mudgee’s Burrundulla winery, Riakos engagingly integrates the company’s annual harvest into the action, as Ellia assists with working the vineyard and crushing the grape harvest, although wine enthusiasts may notice some minor inconsistencies in the filmmakers’ depiction of the winemaking process.
Cast: Sarah Bishop, Les Hill, Roxane Wilson, Millie Spencer-Brown, Helmut Bakaitis, Aaron Glenane, Remy Brand, Robert Preston, Jamie Irvine
Director-writer: Megan Riakos
Producers: Megan Riakos, Sarah Bishop, Robbie Miles
Director of photography: Michael Steel
Production designer: Cate Rann
Editor: Anil Griffin
Music: Aaron Kenny
Venue: Napa Valley Film Festival
Not rated, 111 minutes