Squealer | Review by: Gaius Bolling

 For whatever reason, viewers are obsessed with anything true crime. From podcasts, to the series on Investigation Discovery, to the women of Snapped on Oxygen, there is never too much true crime to go around. Likely seeing the appeal of real-life crime cases, director Andy Armstrong along with his co-writer Danielle Burgio, have tapped into this ongoing obsession with their horror thriller, Squealer. The film by no means breaks new mold in the serial killer thriller sub-genre but its primary strength is that much of it feels real and the film's victims are put centerstage. In this case, it's a group of female prostitutes who are falling victim to a depraved killer. This is a section of the population that is frequently ignored when violent crimes fall upon them. There is an assumption that people won't care what happens to them and they'll be quickly forgotten. By keeping the focus primarily on this miscarriage of justice, Squealer comes off as more than a gratuitous depiction of mayhem and violence.

The film is said to be inspired by the crimes of Canadian murderer Robert Pickton. He became known as the Pig Farmer Killer or the Butcher, and he is also suspected of being one of the most prolific serial killers in Canadian history. His primary targets were prostitutes and he seemed to skate on many of his crimes because, if any victims survived their encounters, their testimonies were said to be unreliable because of their drug addictions and lifestyles. This is the essence of where Squealer borrows some of its true story.

Young women are disappearing in a small town and it has drawn the attention of a sympathetic social worker named Lisa (co-writer Danielle Burgio also serving as an actress here) and her ex-boyfriend/police officer Jack (Wes Chatham). Lisa has become a source of comfort for the ladies of the night who trust her to keep them safe with one in particular, Sadie (Sydney Carvill), being taken under her wing. As they both try to figure out why some of the girls are going missing, clues begin to take them to a remote pig farm where they soon discover a local butcher (Ronnie Gene Blevins) is luring the girls with promises of drugs before ending their lives in the most gruesome fashion.

Squealer does a good job of setting up its atmosphere on what appears to be a minimal budget. You get the sense of the danger the girls are feeling while walking the streets as each potential job they take and the car they jump into could be taking them to their doom.  There is an uneasiness about the night in the film and it's perfectly captured here as "Squealer"  as he's called in the credits, sets his victims in his sights.

Also impressive is that while the film is violent and doesn't skip on the gore, none of it feels gratuitous and it feels like it serves the story. The movie doesn't delight in its depiction of violence but Armstrong knows that given the subject matter, he can't exactly hold back either. There are liberties being taken with the film and its true story and even though this isn't an exact adaptation of the events, there is a level of respect shown to the victims and the imagery of the murders that could be lacking in other low-budget projects. That's not to say the bloodletting is light, because it's not. Squealer's first on-screen murder, which is committed against a prostitute high on drunks, is particularly gruesome without leering at the mayhem while the discovery of a key character's body late in the film will also leave viewers shaken. Credit to the creative team for not making it all seem very lurid. Every moment of violence drives the story forward.

There are also moments of solid suspense and a few surprises that wrap up the film. The ending won't be revealed here but characters that appear safe, have targets on their backs and one murder in particular was surprising given the character's moment of redemption. In what is arguably the film's best scene, Sadie finds herself unknowingly walking and talking with Squealer through an apartment complex. The pleasantries are all nice because he's putting on the front but the viewer knows who he is and the level of danger she's in. It's a tense moment that serves to make the audience very uncomfortable.

All of the performances serve the project well. Burgio hits all the right notes as Lisa, a woman with a heart of gold who once battled her own addictions. It's her past that has defined her present which is why she's so determined to look after these girls. She gives off a mama bear vibe that serves her performance well. Her scenes with Carvill, who plays Sadie, are particularly strong as that relationship ends up being the heart of the film. 

As Squealer, Blevins is creepy without ever going over the top. The frightening thing about him is that he would seemingly appear normal before he dons his full-on butcher attire. There is a calmness to how he plays his violence until it's necessary for him to display significant rage. Chatham, Theo Rossi, and Kate Moennig are all serviceable in more supporting roles but there is one casting misstep. Tyrese Gibson plays a police officer named Paul whose only purpose seems to be to display awkward comic relief and off-putting misogyny against his female co-workers. The character also doesn't serve the story. Take him out of it and the movie would move along fine so his presence here comes off more like just having a name in the cast.

Squealer doesn't climb to the greatest heights of most signature serial killer thrillers of the past but it's completely adequate in its intentions. By shining a light on the victims of the story, the film finds itself showing off a bit more integrity that might allude some of its other low-budget counterparts.


Review by: Gaius Bolling

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