Squeal (Movie Review)
There's actually a lot of positive things to be said about the horror genre's particular fondness for re-using and warping of classic tropes and set-ups. While some will cry stagnation, any horror fan worth their salt will let you know there's as much wonder to be found in making familiar territory as there is in breaking new ground. It's always interesting to see how new filmmakers revive old ideas or when a movie becomes so prevalent its conceit or visual language enters the cinematic lexicon.
Sadly, Squeal is so offensively derivative and boring it's like being beaten to death by 15 Elvis impersonators, all of whom wish to talk about their anime figurine collections, and is therefore not doing the above argument any favors.
Squeal is about an ostensibly cool bunch of miscreants who get kidnapped and clumsily murdered by some mutated pig people. What it actually functions as is a grim parable about the dangers of watching Hostel, the remake of The Hills Have Eyes and the documentary on the Texas Chainsaw Massace dvd and then attempting to smush all of them into one mediocre movie.
The start of the movie is spent getting to know the characters. In this twenty minutes they manage to do just about everything to irritate anyone who has ever been in a band, has had a conversation with reasonable people or enjoys any of the qualities associated with what is traditionally known as “acting”. If you fall into any or all of those categories console yourself with the fact that while this may be nightmarish at the time you'll have forgotten it and the rest of the movie the second the credits roll.
There's a stoner “dude” who starts using the word “man” solely when he smokes the reefer and provides what I was later horrified to realize is the only attempt at humor in this entire movie (“carrots don't have eyes” he says, in an exchange that context would actually render less funny).
There's the good guy and the good girl, they both briefly make doe-eyes at each other near the beginning and then jog around for the rest of the movie with facial expressions that suggest they are constantly getting paper cuts. They're not, they're getting stabbed and molested but the irritation they clearly felt at being involved in the movie shines through over any emotion their Acting may wish to convey.
There's a dickhead antagonist character which is played in such an over-the-top, unrealistic way it suggests the actor may be lucky enough to have never met an actual dickhead. His comeuppance will be a little too literal for most and his portrayal is so cartoonish, making the attempt at manipulating the viewer's emotions far too obvious. You won't be happy he gets hurt, you'll just be delighted he stops bellowing insults at people for no reason.
These are your heroes and you've just been given all the information Squeal believes it needs to provide with for to you root for them.
Oh and there are also two “groupies” who apparently get spun into the throes of ecstasy at the mere mention of sitting in a shitty van belonging to an unsigned band. If you've seen over one horror movie, you'll know these groupies are here to die early . When they finally do get murdered, it is more underwhelming than you could ever expect a dwarf-pigman getting his double-stab on could possibly be.
You'll notice I specifically mentioned the documentary of Texas Chainsaw Massacre as an influence rather than the actual movie. Why? Well, Team Squeal seemingly learned nothing about the sustained tension of the original classic but instead have taken the subtle details praised in said documentary and made them completely obnoxious and useless.
The punishment the actors were clearly subjected to obviously made them irritable rather than scared. No movie could have such uniformly histrionic yet oddly dull performances without somebody urging them to “go bigger” with everything.
All of the sets feel way too new. Sure there's a layer of dust on everything, but most of it looks as though hasn't existed long enough to accumulate any dust at all. Even this “filth” feels new and comes in a layer thin enough to allow everything to be wiped clean and returned to the store at a moments notice. Even the cages seem as though they'd have New Car Smell instead of the stink of an abattoir, and the warehouse most of the movie takes places in feels like it belongs to an Ikea.
But how is the horror? A movie this bad could still be redeemed by good monsters and a pig family, including a dwarf pigman, sound pretty promising. Sadly, the most gruesome thing about the Pigpeople is how poorly fleshed out they are as characters and how bad their prosthetics are. The female pigwoman exists soley to have a “Totally Gross, bro!”scene where her and the pig dude are getting it on. She then disappears from the movie, coming in only at the end for he obligatory they're-a-bit-like-normal-people bit. Both the pigman and the dwarf pigman have makeup that moves and looks aggressively- plastic during most of their closeups.
Aside from their faces they are obviously two average guys, wearing clothes far too new for people that live out in the wilderness. That's how they move too. Although both actors make a valiant attempt at screaming, they just seem like guys who are wandering around in masks, pissed off they're not really being given anything interesting to do.
The backstory of the pig people is “something something...science experiments... something something... escaped... something something... oink”. In fact the only reason they seem to be pigs is to attempt to ensure comparisons to The Hills Have Eyes didn't come too thick and fast and for an excuse to do some distinctive make-up. It's a pity then the swine aspect is so pedestrian and unmemorable in its execution. Sure the pigman can be Jason-fast, but only for the purposes of one jump scare. A scare which itself is rendered nonsensical by the sparse wood it happens in. People can usually see a 7-foot pigman coming, as the old saying goes.
The gore in Squeal is actually just weird. At first, it seems as though they're being oddly restrained. There's definitely a few scenes where they could be showing more and I was almost convinced this was an aesthetic choice. My hopes were dashed later in the movie though when the blood started flowing from nonsensical directions in the wrong color.
The aforementioned dwarf pigman double-groupie-murder amounts to cutting between him doing what looks like a bit of a crap dance and two women lying on the ground screaming as red paint is being splashed on them. In the post-August Mordum age of high-quality, low-budget gore, it is not unreasonable to expect some follow-through if you're selling your movie as a grimy, gory nightmare. Instead Squeal is clumsy and half-hearted, with guts being thrown down beside stab victims and axes in the shoulder yielding no blood whatsoever. I've seen music videos with more convincing monsters, better violence and creepier vibes that this.
Squeal could have been fun if it even had some modest creative ambition of its own and committed to it. Instead, it tries to combine at least four very poor rip-offs of recent horror trends into one terrible movie. If you want camerawork and sets that make it look like everyone is trapped in a Nickleback video, monsters that you'll forget while they're still on screen and acting that makes The Happening seem well-judged: Squeal is your movie. Otherwise, avoid it like the swine flu.