Written and Directed by Carlota Pereda.
Starring Laura Galán.
An overweight teen is bullied by a clique of cool girls poolside while holidaying in her village. The long walk home will change the rest of her life.
Adapted from writer-director Carlota Pereda’s 2018 short of the same name, Piggy certainly makes as much clear throughout, because even with a spectacular performance from Laura Galán, this sun-drenched Spanish horror ulimately feels forcefully distended following a riveting first act.
Sara (Galán) is an overweight teenager who has to suffer routine bullying from a trio of girls living in her town, culminating in a traumatic incident where they very nearly drown her at the pool. However, the tables turn in a most extreme fashion when the girls are kidnapped by a pot-bellied man who witnessed the incident (Richard Holmes), a man who not-so-surprisingly happens to be a serial killer.
And so the dilemma falls to Sara – as bodies start piling up and the police investigates the girls’ disappearance, does she speak up and save them, or keep quiet and spare herself any future torment?
It’s a fascinating setup for a horror-as-morality play with one foot planted in exploitation territory. However, those allured by the film’s grisly poster and dishy premise are best made aware that Piggy is ultimately far more of a restrained, slow-burn investigative thriller than the gonzo splatter-fest you might be hoping for.
While Pereda’s film vents steam by the mid-point, the opening half-hour certainly provides one hell of a compelling primer, the first reel bluntly demonstrating the cruelty dealt to Sara by not just the three girls but so many others. And beyond the physical bounds of this sleepy village, the bullying extends online, with the girls taking a photo of Sara and her portly parents in their butcher shop for digital sneering.
It’s impossible not to massively empathise with Sara after witnessing her be physically and emotionally abused so brutally, yet once the girls are kidnapped in a van and driven off to their apparent doom, we as viewers are made to share her dilemma. Do we want to be passively complicit cheerleaders in the girls’ deaths or not? The situation is further complicated by the fact that one of the three, Claudia (Irene Ferreiro), wasn’t an active participant in the bullying even if she did nothing to stop it. Does that make her worthy of death?
Yet these fascination questions quickly fall by the wayside by the half-way mark, as Pereda’s story gets increasingly bogged down in tedious excursions such as Sara attempting to track down her phone (which the bullies stole, and will lead to them). Even as both the bodies and Sara’s guilt begin to mount up, the throughline feels exceedingly padded out with subplots and characters who don’t much move things along.
The suspense sequences, as the net closes in on both the killer and Sara, are fairly middling in their familiarity, unaided by the fact that our villain is about as typical a backwoods stalker as they come, largely lacking in any characterisation that might make him of greater interest. Clearly Sara is the focus, but considering that the film also asks audiences to consider a potential romantic entanglement between the two, it’s not unreasonable to expect a little more meat on the guy’s bones.
Interest rebounds somewhat for the finale, though the one-two frustration of both the contrived storytelling and lack of blood ‘n’ guts may leave more genre-savvy gorehounds irked by the perfunctory, “artsy” restraint on offer. After sticking with it through a 20-minutes-too-long middle portion, the ending isn’t quite the gonzo reward many will surely be hoping for.
Yet Pereda’s film is a solid looker throughout; DP Rita Noriega makes the most of the sunny Spanish shooting locale – its sickly sheen eventually reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre – while entrapping Sara, who appears in almost every scene, within a boxy 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
And even when Piggy is at its most languorous, there’s little quibbling with the tremendous potency of Galán’s performance. For starters, it’s enormously refreshing to see a horror movie protagonist played by someone who cuts an unconventional figure, who is typically more likely to be one of a killer’s first victims, but here is placed on the other side of that equation entirely.
Galán paints a persuasive picture of trauma, of a person we can assume has been subject to abuse for much of her life, all while throwing herself headlong into the grim demands of the script – namely, spending a good chunk of the film running around in her underwear. Galán’s pained face becomes a vector for enormous audience empathy, and without her the film wouldn’t work nearly as well.
There’s about 40-50% of a really good film here, but even with such a potent central performance, there’s just so much air sucked out of it by the glacial pacing and excess runtime, overstaying its welcome by a solid 20 minutes. While it’s tempting to say that some short films should simply stay short films, it’s clear that the premise had massive potential to be expanded to feature-length, though the returns in this case are disappointingly uneven.
An excellent setup gives way to a surprisingly snoozy, tame horror film, but the brilliance of Laura Galán’s performance is never in doubt.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.