Squirrel opens with a prologue set in what seems to be the Revolutionary War. A small militia attempts to lure an opposing battalion away from their town, so their families can run to shelter. During a stealthy scouting mission, Captain Hobart (Yuri Lowenthal) is shot in the chest. The other soldiers decide to try to get him to the next town, just south of their current position in the woods. Hobart does not wish to put his men in jeopardy, so he staggers off, only leaving behind a present for his son.
There is a lot to enjoy in this opening 12 or so minutes. While the editing of the militia running is a discombobulating, it seems to be intentional. These people don’t know where their enemy will be coming from, and the editing captures that disorientation perfectly. The characters are quickly established, and the cinematography is beautiful.
However, the way this prologue ties into the rest of the Matt Glass penned feature is tenuous at best. See, after Hobart dies, there’s an excellent smash cut to Casey (Alex Hyner) and Lotte, short for Charlotte (Tara Perry), who are on a camping date in those same woods. After setting up camp for the night, they investigate an odd disturbance, and then Lotte falls down and severely wounds her leg.
Hearing screams, Tommy (Thomas Hobson) and Anderson (Tom DeTrinis) arrive at the campsite from a nearby estate to help out. They take in the couple and bandage Lotte’s leg. When morning comes, Casey and Lotte meet the rest of the people staying at the manor. Between the ‘non-twins’, two people (Jordan Wayne Long and Josh Griffin) who choose to look identical despite not being related in any way; the overly zealous Wilder
(Curtis Andersen), who owns the house and land it sits on; and crotchety old Irma who just knits nothing in particular, Casey and Lotte decide it’s best to leave as soon as possible.
“Aside from tasting better, the manor’s residents claim it has quasi-magical powers…”
Before they can get away, they are invited to dinner. This scene is particularly charming. Casey and Lotte walk into the dining hall together and notice everyone is decked out in yellow (including Casey, whose attire was chosen by the residents there). A man holding a large metal bucket walks by them and Casey, believing it to be for donations, puts a dollar in it. The man then sets the bucket on the ground just in front of the main couple, as the roof leaks.
A few minutes later, that man is now waiting on their table and Casey tips him; every single time he comes by. Eventually, Casey opens up his whole wallet and the man takes all the cash in there. It is a rather brilliant recurring gag. This scene might also have the most fun dialogue. When first entering the room, Lotte and Casey go back and forth about whether it is a cult and if it is one, whether these people will eat them. They decide they aren’t a cult until they pray to Wilder. Then the duo concludes they will be consumed. Then they discover they are attending a chicken’s birthday party. It’s all so adorably quirky. Wilder then offers to share the last bit of his stash of crimson syrup as a thank you to everyone’s hard work. This crimson syrup is the compound’s claim to fame, but it’s becoming ever increasingly harder to come by. Aside from tasting better, the manor’s residents claim it has quasi-magical powers; which is the reason Tommy applies it to Lotte’s wound.
From the moment the audience is introduced to Casey and Lotte in the woods until slightly past the hour mark when Casey and Wilder are talking about animalistic tendencies in humans, Squirrel is delightful and intriguing. The acting from everyone is fantastic, and they each suit their characters well (including the pointless, strictly padding prologue); especially Alex Hyner and Tara Perry as the leads, whose chemistry is electrifying. The camera work continues to use the natural beauty of the location to great effect, offering a bevy of stunning shots dripping with atmosphere. The characters are charming, and there are wonderfully sardonic lines throughout.
“From its fantastic cast, beautiful cinematography, and snappy, witty dialogue there’s a lot to adore…”
If only Squirrel stopped while it was ahead. Sadly, from that Wilder-Casey conversation until the ending, the movie loses me entirely. It takes a hard turn into slasher territory for a short spell, and it does not work, nor is it justified by anything else that has happened up to that point. I don’t want to spoil it, as it is a massive spoiler, but the movie fails to recover from this unexpected genre turn. The crazy train doesn’t stop there, but the next bit is just as underwhelming, if only for its sheer predictability.
From its fantastic cast, beautiful cinematography, and snappy, witty dialogue there’s a lot to adore in Squirrel. However, the opening of the film, while impressively mounted, does not add anything and is only there to pad out to a feature-length runtime. However, one awkward beginning isn’t a huge problem. The final 20 minutes jump genre without proper build up and the film is unable to recover its footing.
Squirrel (2018) Directed by Matt Glass, Jordan Wayne Long. Written by Matt Glass. Starring Tara Perry, Alex Hyner, Curtis Andersen, Tom DeTrinis, Thomas Hobson, Yuri Lowenthal.
5 Gummi Bears (out of 10 stars)