In Carlota Pereda’s staggering debut feature, Piggy, there are horrors aplenty as a serial killer targets a small town in Spain. But the true terror here comes from the hell that is being a teenage girl, especially one who is plus size, which is demonstrated through the constant torment that Sara (Laura Galán) faces in her day-to-day life. A group of popular teens, led by the brazenly bitchy Maca (Claudia Salas), make it a point to go out of their way to cut Sara down any way they can, in both real life and on social media, where they constantly ridicule Sara and her unconventional body size through their use of the nickname “Piggy.” On one sweltering summer day in particular, Sara heads off to a swimming pool looking for some respite from the heat, but when she arrives, Maca and her friends decide to prank the poor girl by stealing all her stuff and nearly drowning her while a mysterious man (Richard Holmes) also swimming in the area watches on.
As Sara makes her way home, humiliated and left completely exposed thanks to her bullies, she crosses paths once again with the stranger as he’s in the process of rounding up her tormentors and tossing them in the back of his truck. At first, Sara is horrified, then slightly relieved, and ultimately, inquisitive as you can sense she’s drawn to this man for a myriad of reasons—the biggest being his decision to let her go free, but there’s also some sexual tension exchanged between the two, leaving Sara feeling guilty, confused, but also curious about this dangerous man and just what his intentions are towards her (it’s obvious his intentions towards everyone else involve murder—grisly, gruesome acts of murder).
And as word spreads about the missing teens and other bodies pile up, everyone around her begins to suspect that Sara knows more than she’s saying, but the teen’s best efforts to remain in control of the situation rapidly deteriorate as tensions in her town continue to rise in wake of the horrific events that have left everyone shocked and shaken to their core.
What makes Piggy such a standout effort from Pereda is how deftly she maneuvers between subgenres here, where sometimes the film feels very much like a teen-centric drama, then in other moments, it feels like you’re right in the middle of a psychological thriller. And just when you least expect it, Pereda mercilessly tosses you right in the middle of some nasty carnage that would feel right at home during the American Extremism wave that took over horror here in the States throughout the ’00s. Something that really stood out to me, though, was that there are several key moments in Piggy where Pereda dangles these little touches of grisly horror right in front of Sara, and in front of the viewers, too, but they generally aren’t the things about those scenes that are making us cringe the hardest. It’s the continual abuse of Sara by everyone around her that ends up being some of the most horrific aspects of Pereda’s story.
With Piggy, Pereda crafts an uncomfortable and often cruel viewing experience as a whole, with its only real humanity coming through in Galán’s breathtakingly brilliant performance that paints a complex picture of a young girl whose very existence is marred in conflict. She wants to be popular, but she’s also a bit antisocial; she hates her bullies and finally experiences a taste of freedom once they’ve been kidnapped, but she also feels bad knowing that at any moment, she could help them escape their cruel fates. Walking these fine lines of duality isn’t always easy, but Pereda does a great job of creating a story and a lead character whose plight we’re completely invested in, but also frustrated by in equal measure. I think that in many ways, Piggy perfectly captures the messiness of real life, but especially those arduous teenage years when everything just feels like such a struggle.
I won’t say much about how things unfold during Piggy’s final act, but what I will say is that I do understand why some folks may not appreciate the ambiguous note that Pereda leaves this story on considering everything that unfolds during its final 10 minutes. Personally, I enjoyed it and I think it was Pereda’s unflinching commitment to making bold decisions with her narrative throughout Piggy that made me an instant fan of her work, and I will absolutely watch whatever it is that she does next in her career.
Movie Score: 4/5
[Photo Credit: Above poster image courtesy of Sundance Institute.]
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