Squeal, also known as Samuel’s Travels, is a Latvian film about a man named Sam (Kevin Janssens) who is searching for his long lost father and gets captured by a rural family when he saves one of their pigs from dying in the forest he is driving through. He generates a friendly relationship with Kirke (Laura Silina), the daughter of the man holding him captive, and a dangerous one with Kirke’s ex-boyfriend who lives on the farm next door. He becomes jealous of Sam, which leads to disastrous consequences. It first premiered at Fantastic Fest in 2021, which is a film festival in Austin, Texas that specializes in genre. It feels like a disturbed fairytale, an amalgamation of horror and fantasy. Though it may have the intention of evoking a magical quality, it lacks a lot of the charm and playfulness that should be associated with that genre.
It begins with a cute, little pig basking in the sun, and following him as he trots through the forest. The pig has escaped from a pig farm, only to be hit by Sam driving in the countryside. A distinct voice-over speaks the initial words, “It’s better to die exhausted in freedom from starvation than to be satiated in slavery.” That phrase gives the viewer context for the rest of the film. This opening scene also sets up how often there will be violence against animals within the movie. I was so nervous about the fate of the animals that it was slightly difficult to focus on the story at hand. All I could think about was Jordan Peele’s Nope. The use of animals in movies should be tasteful, so I think Squeal was a little careless with how they used animals to elicit emotion (particularly with the ending).
While the film may be functional, the characters and their motivations feel so bizarre. Sam is easily the most sympathetic (human) character until he makes a decision that in no way would ever happen, or at least within the time frame the movie takes place. The characters are there to serve the theme set in the beginning which makes the story feel rather forced and unnatural. Also, Sam’s initial desire to find his father is practically extraneous to the plot, which makes me wonder why that detail was added.
Without a doubt, the pig was the star of the show, seeming more rational and intelligent than most of the humans. He also helped out Sam when he was in a pickle. One of the downfalls for me was voice-over being used to tell the audience about the characters rather than creating situations that let the audience figure out who they are. At a mere 85 minutes, additional scenes that could eliminate the voice-over wouldn’t bloat the movie at all. I can only hypothesize that the voice-over was meant to make the viewer feel like they are being read a fairytale. One of the few highlights was the light and twinkly music. It provided some relief from the heaviness of the film. It was capably directed by Air Karapetian, who is also one of the credited screenwriters. Although I found little enjoyment in the movie, it was a competent creation, so I give Squeal an overall rating of 2 out of 5 stars.