Sundance 2022 Film Review – Piggy (2021)

Carlota Pereda‘s punishingly personal feature debut explores heartless body shaming and the small town big hell of a Spanish teenager caught in the headlights of a hulking serial killer.

Butcher’s daughter Sara struggles with her weight and is constantly bullied and abused by the locals and her bitchy peers. The repellent harassment is both verbal, “Piggy” and “Miss bacon”, and physical.

The claustrophobic nature of the town means there is nowhere for Sara to hide and as the summer heat ratchets up only one pool for her to cool down in. Targeted by a group of girls her own age whilst swimming they attack her with fishing nets and steal her towel. 

The traumatic walk home sees her brutally harangued by a group of men but before her ordeal is over she sees her earlier assailants bloody and beaten in the back of a van. Will Sara alert the authorities or embrace the attentions of her newly acquired avenging angel of death?

Shooting a movie that deals with disturbing real-life issues through the filthy filter of horror will always risk veering into exploitation territory. Thankfully, Pereda’s nasty microcosm of small-minded shithousery is intelligent and honest enough to keep it wholly cathartic. 

Yes, the film is hard to digest with long sections of sustained hectoring and explosive pockets of practical gore. Certainly, the camera lingers on psychological misery and physical discomfort.

However, the societal questions it poses have a substance and vitality that prevent it from becoming an exercise in soulless horror bingo and gratuitous rubbernecking. There is an organic rectitude in play here that gives life to a tangible character who flourishes outside of the airbrushed parameters of the traditional final girl.

Similarly, the film’s pragmatic approach to nudity is that of a hall of mirrors reflection of the quiet complicity we all share in the standardisation and sanitation of the female body, especially in horror cinema. Quite how we have become coerced into the mindset that only skinny glamour girls can be hunted by stabby sociopaths is fascinating. It really should not feel so ground-breaking to see a curvier woman rocking the staple genre bikini in moments of distress, but it does.

Pereda constructs a tightly lensed and intimate to the point of intrusion hotbox for her troubling fable to unfurl its true colours. In doing so she succeeds in injecting a sense of realism and relatability into the hardened veins of the slasher revenge picture.

As a filmmaker, she believes that horror has the best community in cinema in terms of what they are up for thematically and dramatically. She knows Sara’s “fuck them” attitude to her oppressors will find its spiritual home among genre fans. Yet, the same community of film lovers is notorious for their intolerance of social injustice and acceptance of each other’s differences. There are patently raw agendas being laid bare in Pereda’s movie and horror hounds are the perfect allies to explore and exorcise them with.

Laura Galán‘s heartbreakingly authentic portrayal of Sara is incredibly tough to witness. Watching her entire sense of worth and contentment being defined by others’ judgment is much more of an endurance test than seeing her tormentors being slaughtered.

She brings a quirky warmth to the role that engenders a strong bond with the viewer. It is a superbly executed everywoman performance that writhes with awkwardness and disenfranchised autonomy. A quite remarkable sister role to Björk’s work in Dancer In The Dark that strikes sparks of extraordinary empathy from the dull rocks of mundanity. 

Extrapolated from an eponymous short film there are some residual pacing issues surrounding Piggy. There are times it sags when it should be surging and the confusing wandering around the woods segment is overegged. However, to an extent, the meandering slow burn serves the film’s own ends by complementing the tedious vernacular of a humdrum town.

Uncompromising, incendiary, and creatively cruel Piggy is a fearless callback to a time when independent horror flicks addressed the social elephants in the room by sawing their fucking tusks off.

★★★★

Horror Drama/ Serial Killer Thriller| Spain| 2021 |Not Yet Rated| 1h 30 mins |Sundance Film Festival World Premiere  | Filmax| Dir. Carlota Pereda | With: Laura Galán, Richard Holmes, Carmen Machi, Irene Ferreiro, Camille Aguilar, Jose Pastor, Pilar Castro, Fernando Delgado-Hierro, Claudia Salas