Film Review – Squirrel
First feature films can be a tricky endeavor for those with small budgets but an avid love for the art of film. Many firsts for screenwriters and directors end up being films with a decent budget that gain a cult following and strong word-of-mouth, but others are tasked with turning their labor-of-love into a reality with only their resources and talent. Enter Squirrel, a film written by Matt Glass and directed by Glass and Jordan Wayne Long.
Squirrel follows a new couple Charlotte “Lotte” (Tara Perry) and Casey (Alex Hyner) as they take on a hike that seems out of sorts for both of them. While setting up camp for the night, they run into an individual with a torch that scares them both. Running away, Lotte becomes injured with an open wound on her shin. Hearing her cries, two men appear out of nowhere to help them, Tommy (Thomas Hobson) and Anderson (Tom DeTrinis). Convincing the couple to stay the night at their house for Lotte to recuperate, Lotte and Casey follow them home. The stately, old mansion where Tommy and Anderson live is the home to a cult-like group and the weirdness is on full display as the couple makes their way to a bedroom. The strange trip of a lifetime is only beginning for Lotte and Casey.
The story revolves around a crimson red maple syrup cultivated from the woods surrounding this mansion. The people who live and work here are in a bit of panic as the red is slowly fading from the syrup. It has healing qualities as Lotte can attest to as it was used on her open wound and sped the healing process up dramatically. The quizzical and strange characters that inhabit this home make Casey and Lotte more suspicious of whose company they are in.
Given its remote location and the weird things that happen, Squirrel evokes a little of the spirit of The Shining (specifically the novel). Not to mention the non-twins (Josh Griffin and Jordan Wayne Long) who increase the creep factor, yet make for a couple of humorous moments. There is almost a constant state of unpredictability associated with the strange things that happen. The film never settles on one course of action and continues to throw the audience off the path of predictability.
What sets Squirrel apart from others is the use of humor in addition to the weird things seen and experienced. Alex Hyner’s Casey is the first example, and given the writing, Hyner makes his character’s uncertainty and lack of any composure in stressful situations quite comical. Tom DeTrinis’ Anderson also brings humor to almost all the scenes he is in with his quirky way of inserting a movement or stare to make a scene more light-hearted than it is. Thirdly, the cameo by Matt Glass as Bucket Man delivered another humorous element to an already wacky dinner scene that also featured a live chicken and the euphoria of crimson syrup.
Squirrel’s would-be antagonist, Wilder (Curtis Andersen), is less maniacal and more so operating with delusions of grandeur. He is the savior and leader of this cult-like group and protector of the syrup. He is not threatening but still commands the respect of his followers. He appears to Casey and Lotte as someone a little off their rocker, but not someone worthy of worship and idolized. Wilder is the key to the prologue of Squirrel coming full-circle in the end.
Squirrel is an embarrassment in riches in regards to cinematography and the use of its setting. The stately mansion and the surrounding woods make for a rich canvas full of fall colors for the story in which to be told. There are a few minor hiccups in regards to acting and sound that stalled the flow a bit, but given the time and budget, Glass and Long made it work and the story flourished. Their first feature is a beginning to what could be an anthology of original stories that is much needed with the sequels, superheroes, and remakes that dominate what is “coming soon” to our theaters over the next few years.