MIFF 2022: Piggy Review
“They call my ‘Piggy,’ and you do nothing!”
Wrought with familial drama, brutal bullying, and a blood-soaked slaughterhouse, Piggy subverts the familiar revenge horror film with clever writing. Director and writer Carlota Pereda’s second feature-length horror film puts everything together neatly and cuts through the dangers of bullying with a carving knife. Feeling a bit ’80s influenced, but presenting it through a modern lens, Piggy is a creative thriller brilliantly melding its genres together, complete with stellar performances from the main cast. Expanding a short film she previously put together under the same name, Pereda has said “I wrote Piggy to confront my own fears. Real life fears. Because being a teen can be terrifying.“
Our lead, Sara (Laura Galán), lives a slow existence in a small Spanish town. Her family don’t seem to understand her, and a group of girls in town mercilessly bully her. She tries to make herself as invisible as possible which is no small feat considering all anyone seems to focus on is her weight. Come one hot summer day at the local pool however, the dynamic shifts in an uncomfortable direction. After another round of picking on her, from name calling to pushing Sara under the water with a pool cleaning net, and even stealing her clothes and belongings, a severe karmic twist hits the trio of mean girls. A mysterious man new to town sets his sights on them, and the only one who knows their fate is Sara. When the power to save them is in her hands, Sara is left to decide what she truly wants.
Piggy gives us a question which hangs heavy in the mind, has Sara been pushed enough by the cruelty of her peers to do the unthinkable? Is her desire for acceptance worth what lies on the other side? This mysterious stranger leaving a trail of corpses in his wake seems to have a sympathy for, and even a romantic attraction to, Sara. Despite the danger, and despite how wrong it all is, the feeling of acceptance after a life of cruelty is a tantalizing concept. From here the film sort of subverts revenge horror whilst leaning into a few ’80s horror stylings. It makes it fresh with a modern approach, and Piggy showcases emotional and mental brutality much more so than physical brutality, though don’t be fooled since there are some gruesome scenes.
The blood-soaked bullied girl is always a potent image, and the swift and violent murders put up against the parental abuse and infighting within the town make for a thought provoking film. There’s shades of Carrie here, with Sara’s journey hitting similar beats, but the freshness of the blend of themes has it feeling very original. Piggy brings together rural drama with a very atmospheric-when-it-wants-to-be horror. The film keeps a sense of humour about it though, and comes out as a lovingly crafted whole.
The highlight of the film, past the sharp and emotionally invested writing, are the performances. Richard Holmes brings this quiet menace to his character in the stranger, obviously off-kilter yet with few words conveys his complicated desire to help Sara. Carmen Machi is oppressive as the mother of Sara, filled with this insidiousness that shows us she doesn’t sympathize at all with her daughter, but also keeping a public face and sticking to the culture of protecting your own. But above them all is the emotional performance from Laura Galán in the lead role. Sara goes through an emotional journey, and her situation is anything but simple. Galán hits every note from the morbidly funny to terrified and conflicted. The power that comes from her outpouring of emotions is very impressive. The romantic subplot of the film does feel like it doesn’t quite stick the landing, but with Galán’s performance it course corrects.
A very solid horror film playing with a few different genres and themes that provides some cutting social commentary, Piggy is a great entertaining ride and a fantastic new voice in horror with Carlota Pereda. Weaving in a bit of dark humour alongside a slowly mounting thriller makes the ride all the more enjoyable, and doesn’t take away from the emotional torture Sara undergoes. From the streets of a beautiful small Spanish town right into an abandoned slaughterhouse, Piggy takes us on a well-crafted journey that feels fresh and exciting.