Thriller, family drama and murder mystery, Ellia (Sarah Bishop) returns to her family’s vineyard in rural Australia after her father is crushed by a barrel, only to learn that members of her family are prime suspects in his sudden death.

With the welcome additions of a cop, a farm-hand, the ex and a slew of other familiar characters,Crushed is a contemporary, distinctly Australian take on classic Agatha Christie and pulp style mysteries, with Ellia navigating the various clues and red herrings to figure out what really happened to her father.

The twists come as expected, some predictable, one pleasantly surprising towards the end and a reveal which never felt fully justified, though there are enough characters, some only too briefly introduced, to keep you guessing. The rural setting is one of the film’s best assets, contributing to the atmosphere of alienation and helplessness which benefited some of the more higher-paced drama. As much as it adds to Crushed, the isolated scenery is never used to as great effect as it was in recent Australian thrillers such as Strangerland or Charlie’s Farm, the former of which in particular based so much of the narrative and drama around the unforgiving landscape.

One of the best things this thriller has going for it is the recurring visuals of the family’s trademark wine, which supplies the setting for the film and the basis for much of the drama. There’s a marvellous lingering shot about halfway into the film of Ellia emptying crushed grapes into a large vat, resulting in huge streams of red which in part sets the mood for the film. An underused tonal motif, the temper of the film is instead set by the ensuing pile of casualties and flashbacks to another death in the family years past, adding an extra layer of mystery to the proceedings.

Entertaining if somewhat predictable, Crushed is a light Aussie thriller which benefits from its well-conceived setting, even if some of the film’s inventiveness is underutilised.

Crushed  is screening as part of the A Night of Horror International Film Festival which screens in Sydney November 26 – December 6.

On FilmInk