Blasts from the Past! Blu-ray Review: THE RED SQUIRREL (1993)

This title is currently available on Blu-ray from Olive Films (www.olivefilms.com – www.facebook.com/olivefilms).

This week, Olive Films are releasing a number of Blu-ray of foreign-language films, many dating back to the early 90s. The Red Squirrel is a Spanish arthouse psychological thriller (with some eccentric comedic touches) from Goya Award-winning filmmaker Julio Medem. For a first time viewer, this one is certainly quirky, but it possesses several plusses. The feature uses dynamic camera work to capture a group of characters with unclear motives, holding viewer attention and allowing for speculation as to what is really going on.

The plot follows a musician named Jota (Nancho Novo), the lead in a once well-known band that is now broken up. To make matters worse, he has just lost his girlfriend. It opens with the character at the beach and contemplating suicide. He’s quickly distracted by a motorcycle hurtling down the road, crashing into a bridge barrier and sending the driver into the sand below. Running to help, Jota finds a woman (Emma Suárez) suffering from amnesia. The protagonist calls for an ambulance, but finds himself suggesting that he is her boyfriend. He takes the woman he has named Lisa (a nod to his one notable song) and heads to a campground. Fragments begin returning to Lisa, but as more information is revealed, Jota begins to suspect that he may be manipulated as well.

Obviously, the actions of the lead character are pretty horrible, but there’s a strange, dreamy quality about the entire film that manages to keep you watching and waiting to see how things will resolve themselves. The Spanish locations and sets (including the colorful campground) are beautiful, adding a surreal element to the proceedings. With the title, one might expect to see the titular rodents and they are constantly referenced, from the name of the locale to their aggressive behavior. One little creature even appears to torment Jota over the course of the proceedings.

Other families and persons at the park are curiously odd as well. They all have peculiar quirks and behave in ways that one wouldn’t necessarily anticipate. Some of it is used in a humorous manner, although other habits are more unsettling. No one is particularly truthful and just about everyone in the camp is taking advantage and manipulating each other. In fact, this seems to be a theme, and one wonders if another of the concepts explored might be the many secrets that everyone tries hides beneath their normal-looking exterior.

The leads are very good and the Lisa character exudes onscreen charisma and an air of mystery about her, adding a bit of suspense to the proceedings. Nothing is explicitly stated, but it become fairly certain that she more than likely isn’t suffering from amnesia at all and is merely using the situation to her advantage (much like Jota is attempting to do with her). In fact, she may be the one in the most control. It all leads to a disturbingly memorable scene in which a psychotic character arrives and performs an act of self-mutilation that will stay with most viewers long past the end credits.

Again, the movie doesn’t go out of its way to explain some of the odd elements on display or what it all means, but in many respects that makes it all the more intriguing. The cinematography is excellent as well. This movie is from the early 90s and there are some very creative uses of camera angles. The opening accident, in which the camera runs along the vibrating barrier after the accident towards Jota, is excellent and there are some eerie moments later on with POV shots of one of the rodents moving around and dropping items on the lead.

The disc itself looks fantastic. While there are no extra features provided, the print used for the transfer itself is in exceptional shape. It all looks incredible and this stands as one of the better transfers that I’ve seen in the Olive Films catalog. Some of the outdoor locations look really sharp and stunning. The bright and colorful image emphasizes the production design and all of the interesting and elaborate shot set-ups used.

To be fair, based on some of the bizarre situations being witnessed early on, I actually expected a bigger twist or more of a surprise towards the close. However, this is an arthouse effort more concerned with making you analyze the symbolism on display than it is with providing a more traditional twist ending. Overall, it sped by quickly and maintained my interest throughout. The Red Squirrel is a good little thriller bolstered by strong technical credits and a captivating and enigmatic female lead. Fans of the film should be happy to finally be able to own a Blu-ray of the film and will be impressed with the image quality on display.

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