Director: Carlota Pereda (France, Spain). Year of Release: 2022
Extremadura, Spain. The sort of village where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and the community policeman is son of the police chief, who looks riled when addressed as “dad” on duty. Sara is in her early teens, short and fat, and extremely self-conscious. She chews her hair continuously and wears headphones to try and drown out the sound of everyday life. When she’s working in her parents’ butcher’s shop the local cool girls point at her and make a puking gesture.
One of the cool girls, Claudia (or Clau) comes in to buy some meat for her parents. She’s civil, and it’s obvious that her family knows Sara’s. Then she posts a photo of Sara and her parents on social media with the caption “Three little piggies”. Sara’s parents are oblivious to what is happening – her father tells her she should go out to the fair with “her friends” while her mother blames Sara for her problems. When she finally finds out about the bullying, she puts Sara on a diet.
Sara goes to the public baths, but only when no-one else is there to see her. As she undresses in the changing rooms, she is a bundle of neuroses. She gets ready to jump into the pool, then she sees a man. Her arms automatically pull back to cover her body, presumably in shame that anyone might see her in just a bikini. The way in which Laura Galán plays Sara, whose self-consciousness clearly comes from the experience of regular ridicule, is both compelling and heart rending.
Just as Sara raises the confidence to enter the water, along come the cool girls. They taunt Sara and attack her with a pool net, almost drowning her in the process. Sara swims away underwater, too flustered to notice the mutilated corpse at the bottom of the pool. The girls run off with Sara’s bag and towel, leaving her to walk home in her bikini. As she walks back, on the edge of her nerves, the local lads show that they are equally insensitive, and chase her in a car, shouting “porkie”.
Sara is now in tears and walks down a side street to recuperate. She sees the man from the pool dragging bodies into his van. As the van prepares to move off, Sara sees Clau’s bloody hand desperately grasping the back window. Clau calls for help, but Sara is conflicted. Haven’t the cool girls brought this upon themselves? Besides which, their abductor is one of the few people who seems to recognise her pain. Before he goes, he leaves her Clau’s towel so she can cover himself.
The second half of Piggy is more standard horror territory – all jump shots and excessive blood – but the opening has caught our attention and made us think about the characters, even if many of them are obnoxious and none leaves the film having behaved with full honour. Sara holds back from telling the police, or anyone else, what she has witnessed, partly because the victims had it coming, but also because her life is hard enough without making it any more complicated.
I was not always convinced by the motivation of the killer. I’ve read reviews which say that either he feels sorry for Sara or that he preys upon her vulnerability. Well, maybe, but there seems to be an inconsistency in what he does that doesn’t really convince. Is he a mindless serial killer, or Sara’s avenging angel? He seems to be each at different points in the film, but not in a way that fully made sense to me. Though this shouldn’t detract from the other qualities of the film.
Some of the film’s qualities shouldn’t be particularly important, but it’s only by watching it that you realise how little most cinema has to do with reality. It’s not just the body shaming, though it’s a relief to see a film with a female lead who does not look like a fashion model. When someone comes across a severed foot, the reaction is neither the wild hysteria nor the indifference that we see in most films. You feel that what we see approximates reality, in a way most films don’t.
Similarly, towards the end there is a long chase scene which in most films would lead either to the chasee effortlessly slipping away, or being a pathetic woman who needs a Big Man to jump in and save her. Here everything is much more messy – lots of falling over and not quite hiding properly. It’s a chase scene as experienced by real people, rather than those who have been assigned their roles by Hollywood (or the relevant national corporate film identity).
Piggy isn’t perfect, for sure, but it gets all the most important things right. It raises serious social issues which have been generally neglected by cinema, but it doesn’t make the action dependent on these social questions. If you just want a diverting chase scene, you’re in the right place. But, if you’re looking for a comment on mobbing and bullying and how shit it can be to be a teenage girl who doesn’t fit in, there’s stuff here for you as well.
Director Carlota Pereda has said: “I wrote Piggy to confront my own fears. Real life fears. Because being a teen can be terrifying.” This is why there should be a place for Piggy alongside the more optimistic teen films like Dazed and Confused or Pretty in Pink or whatever. For some people, teenage isn’t about making the prom and driving around in expensive cars. Piggy tells the story of people who’s early life is not so smooth. There should be more of this sort of thing.