*NOTE: This review was originally part of our 2022 Sundance Film Festival coverage.*
Body horror and mutilation are not the scariest things about filmmaker Carlota Pereda’s Piggy. Sure, a teenage girl covered in slashes slowly pulling herself out from the tree line is ominous. Blood gushing into a pool isn’t exactly a good sign and young women tied up like pigs for slaughter is, at least, alarming. But the most terrifying part of Piggy is the verbally violent vitriol faced by a plus-sized teenager.
Set in a modern rural Spanish town and combining psychological drama with the slasher genre, Piggy centers on a reserved teenager growing up in a small town as a plus-sized young woman. As Sara (Laura Galán) spends her days listening to music in her parent’s butcher shop, she faces the verbal abuse of her classmates and neighbors as they insult her size. Keeping their taunts farm and swine-related, Sara’s days are pretty miserable. Her nights are no better living with her oblivious father and protective and overbearing mother (a wicked Carmen Machi).
Reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s Carrie, Sara’s real problems begin when she goes to her local swimming pool off-hours in a bikini. Swimming beside her is a bearded man quietly watching her as her peers come to terrorize her. After an incident at the pool, Sara realizes that that stranger (Richard Holmes) has kidnapped and murdered one of her bullies, igniting a firestorm in her small town. As more and more people start getting hurt and disappearing, she finds herself pulled toward the bearded kidnapper. In the end, she must determine whether or not to turn what she knows over to the police even if her own tormentors go free.
As a lead, Galán is captivating. She conveys so much angst and terror with a single look that her performance drips with empathy. As for fat representation, both Galán and Pereda make very specific choices that don’t always work cohesively together. Sara doesn’t speak up for herself, often letting questions go unanswered. When she is being tortured by those around her, she doesn’t verbally stand up for herself but almost squeals her dismay. Others perceive her as stupid. This helplessness doesn’t evade any stereotypes that fat bodies endure but instead causes a conflicting message with Sara’s character arc.
Pereda shoots Galán head-on, showing her body in its entirety. Her curves are not exaggerated or filmed in a grotesque way. If anything, the director gives Sara’s body more respect than her peers do. Often, bigger bodies have a harder time evoking empathy from the audience because of fat bias. Because of this, the treatment Sara receives at the hands of townspeople, her bullies, and even her own mother has to be overtly cruel. Pereda delivers on that.
Early on, when Sara goes to the local swimming pool during off-hours to avoid being made fun of, she still encounters taunts by her peers. At one point while swimming, she comes up for air. Her bullies throw a pool net over her head and try to drown her. Amid the point of view shots of her thrashing around in the water and her screams for her perpetrators to stop, the viewer is so immersed in the violence that one does not notice the dead lifeguard tied up at the bottom of the pool. It’s the juxtaposition between the visual stylized violence and the very grounded reality of Sara’s everyday existence that makes Piggy a fascinating character study.
Piggy is on-demand and in theaters Friday, October 7th. Watch the trailer below.