Arrow Video FrightFest 2022: Piggy Serves Up Cathartic, Morally Complex Revenge

Sometimes, a short film stretched to feature-length can just feel like padding, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Expanded from her 2018 short film of the same name, Carlota Pereda’s Spanish horror film Piggy is a knockout at any length. At 90 minutes rather than 13 and some change, the film rarely sags but actually evolves and keeps surprising. In no specific order, Piggy manages to be heartbreaking, ruthless, unexpectedly funny, and cathartic. 

Laura Galán (who also starred in the short) plays Sara, a butcher’s daughter who works the front of the shop in a small Spanish village. She’s bullied by the cool crowd, including a spineless “friend” Claudia (Irene Ferreiro) and her cruel, body-shaming girlfriends who call her “Piggy.” Of course, all of the insults thrown Sara’s way are aimed at her body. At home, Sara’s mother (Carmen Machi) is overbearing but at least protective. One afternoon, Sara goes to the local pool after everyone is left. Another swimmer emerges from the water—a man (Richard Holmes) with whom Sara locks eyes—but her attention turns to Claudia and her two girlfriends, Maca (Claudia Salas) and Roci (Camille Aguilar), who begin taunting her from a bridge. This leads to Sara being physically accosted by a pool skimmer and having her towel and clothes stolen. After a walk in her bathing suit and another round of being bullied by three men on the road, Sara has had it. When Sara passes a white van and sees a distressed Claudia pleading for help from the back of the van, she does what Claudia did back at the pool: nothing. That’s right, Sara’s bullies are now in the hands of a brutish killer, the man from the pool.

Sara stands in her doorway

In Pereda’s short, that’s where the story ends with the ambiguity packing a real punch. With this expansion, the story doesn’t lose any of its power and carries on with a bit more complexity that viewers might even consider transgressive. Between Sara and her bullies’ murderous captor, there is an unspoken mutual understanding, and Carlota Pereda’s script nearly turns this relationship into a forbidden romance. Simple without being simplistic, Piggy is most certainly about revenge by proxy but also human empathy. It’s a tough character portrait as much as it’s a down-and-dirty horror film.

The term “brave” in describing a performance has lost its luster in recent years, but Laura Galán is brave. As Sara, she is up for all of the challenges the role demands, both physically and emotionally. When the character is alone in her room, she sheds as much vulnerability there as she does when she’s nearly naked running down the dirt road from the pool. In the solitude of her own space, Sara finds comfort in hidden sweets and escapes from the world by listening to her headphones. It’s this attention to humanity that makes Sara a worthy if unconventional Final Girl. Sure, her appearance doesn’t match typical body standards, but more importantly, there is a case of Stockholm syndrome going on here. Just a teenager living under her parents’ roof, Sara has never received attention from a man—serial killer or not—and that feels exciting.

Sara is a courageous young woman just living in her own body when women her age should be supporting her rather than dragging her down. What makes Sara even more complicated and compelling to watch is when her moral compass begins being tested over and over. As the families of these missing girls begin their search, they hope to pry the truth out of Sara who remains silent yet feels the weight of guilt. 

Richard Holmes plays the killer, credited as Desconocido (“unknown”), and while he is often directed to bulge his eyes to almost a comic degree, Holmes is still an imposing presence with sway over Sara. A terrific Carmen Machi brings a much-needed source of levity and gravitas as Sara’s tough-love madre; she will tell her daughter to go on a diet but won’t go down without a fight when Sara’s well-being is threatened by one of the bullies’ mothers. 

The killer holds Sara with a knife

Reminiscent in places of Alexandre Aja’s New French Extremity import High Tension (if only in terms of unflinching violence at the hands of a killer), the film still never becomes torturous to watch in Carlota Pereda’s hands. Even when Sara is faced with a twisted moral conundrum in the killer’s warehouse lair in the third act, it doesn’t exactly go down as one might expect. And yet, there will be blood.

Caked in blood and palpable sweat from the oppressive summer heat and reverberating with full-throated fury, Pereda’s film plays like a wish-fulfillment tale for the bullied and voiceless. It traps us in the frame with Sara, and it certainly helps that cinematographer Rita Noriega shoots in Academy aspect ratio for a boxed-in feeling. Made special by Laura Galán’s fearless lead performance and Pereda’s lean script and gritty direction, there’s something to be said for a film that can keep you emotionally hooked even before the serial killer strikes. This little Piggy is worth a look.

Piggy premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and will play at the Arrow Video FrightFest on August 29. It will also be released in US cinemas on October 14 and UK cinemas on October 21.

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Written by Jeremy Kibler

Jeremy is a film graduate from Penn State University, an Online Film Critics Society member, and altogether a film obsessive. He lives to watch the latest horror releases and write about them.

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