Men are pigs. Sort of.
truism trope lays the ground work for Squeal, a dark fairy tale that wants to explore man’s baser impulses and his potential for redemption. In Squeal, Samuel (Kevin Janssens), a man who is on a quest to find his long-lost father. When he finds himself lost in the remote forests of Eastern Europe, Samuel encounters Kirke (Laura Silina), a pig-farmer’s daughter who invites him to stay the night. However, when he awakens, he discovers that our initial hospitality was a ruse to capture him and force him to work on their farm. Chained in the barn amongst the pigs, Samuel is treated as just another animal and awaits the opportunity to escape.
Spun as a dark comedic fairytale, Squeal feels like the bizarre offspring of Stephen King’s Misery and The Princess Bride. Directed by Ike Karapetian, the film is entirely willing to lean into its darkest impulses yet still remains a fascinating and whimsical endeavor. Focusing on the story of a man chained in a barn and treated as livestock, Squeal wields its horrific edge with glee. Leaning into the more chilling aspects of folklore, the film feels like a terrifying bedtime story. Other than Samuel, each of its characters seem wildly disconnected from the gravity of the reality that is before them. Humans are treated like animals yet animals remain revered. While the violence does not get particularly graphic, this is meant to be a world where anything can happen at any given moment.
At the same time, there is a eccentricity [and, dare I say, even sweetness?] to the film. Embedded within this bizarre kidnapping tale lies the beating heart of a love story which is kicking at the darkness to break free. With its simple, rural setting, the film feels as though it has fallen out of children’s book. Featuring talking animals and a quirky chemistry between Silina and Janssens, Squeal maintains a certain light-hearted spirit underneath the mayhem. Without question, it is undoubtedly the strangest mix of genres that one will see this year… but the film is still manages to work.
What’s most interesting about the film is its comparison between man and animal. Throughout Squeal, the lines between civilization and the natural world are increasingly blurred. Treated primarily as a source of income, both Samuel and the pigs are valued as essential, even if their intelligence is overlooked. Both are fed slop and washed gruffly. (Although, admittedly, Kirke’s bathing of Samuel has a different tone. What’s more, Samuel even notes that the differences between them have become. [“I’m only eating garbage like you because I have to,“ he notes.]
Despite their differences, man and pig have become closer than one might expect.
As such, the film also seems an exploration of toxic masculinity. From the fact that Samuel has never known his father to the film’s open ending, there’s a suggestion within Squeal that men have a certain animal nature within their DNA. In this way, Samuel’s journey feels as though it threatens to reveal his character. (After all, men often are pigs.)
Strangely though, there’s also a certain hopefulness about the film that this inner nature can be overcome. The romantic angle offers a redemptiveness to Samuel’s story that seems to heal his wounds. As his journey unfolds, there is a genuine sense of hope for mankind. Though they may have baser instincts, maybe love can help man’s humility and heart can break through after all, allowing for some light in the midst of this dark world.
While it will not be for everyone, Squeal is such a strange experiment that one can’t help but admire it. Though wild in style, Karapetian understands what he wants to create and goes for it with gusto.
Squeal is available in theatres in NY/LA and on VOD on Friday, August 19th, 2022.