Review by Sean Boelman
Aik Karapetian’s Squeal starts out as if it is going to be some sort of “wrong place, wrong time” horror movie, and while it has some elements of that, there is something much more bizarre and intriguing going on in Karapetian’s head. The result is a bizarre dark comedy that’s fascinating, even when not everything comes together.
The film follows a traveler who, after accidentally hitting a pig while driving on the road in Eastern Europe, finds himself captured and enslaved by a pig farmer. With some definite tones of Jeunet in terms of how it combines whimsy with darkness, the unique tone of this movie is what makes it work so well.
Granted, the film does feel like Karapetian and co-writer Aleksandr Rodionov had a cool concept in mind and built a script around it. For the most part, it works, but you can tell which scenes are more developed and which are the connective tissue being used as filler. However, the good scenes are extremely memorable and are able to carry the movie.
It is clear that Karapetian is trying to draw a parallel between the protagonist and the pigs on the farm, and the rich history of symbolism of the creature gives him a lot to work with. However, the purposeful ambiguity sometimes goes a bit too far and comes off as unclear, as this film seems to be saying a lot without taking much of a firm stance on anything.
The protagonist isn’t all too heroic of a character, but that works well within the context of the movie. Obviously, we are generally rooting for him over the farmers that have enslaved him, but he’s also not the low-hanging fruit that the hero of the proletariat rising up against the institution. The delineations here are much less clear-cut.
Kevin Janssens performance as the protagonist definitely stands out. For one, it is a very physical role that requires him to get very down and dirty. And yet, throughout the entire ordeal, he has to maintain his dignity and strength to communicate this character’s fundamental perseverance, and he does so quite successfully.
The film also thrives from a stylistic standpoint. Karapetian opts for a dark fairytale vibe — something that is not too uncommon in European art cinema — and just makes everything feel about ten times grimier. It’s the type of movie that feels very gross and disgusting despite not being particularly graphic in nature, and it works.
Squeal doesn’t pull off everything it sets out to do, but the things it does achieve are pretty impressive. Even if Karapetian’s dark fable leaves more questions than it answers, it’s an interesting watch nonetheless.
Squeal hits theaters and VOD on August 19.