The opening scene of Carlota Pereda’s Piggy tells you exactly what you need to know about its main character. Overweight teenager Sara (Laura Galán) is sitting on the counter of her family’s butcher shop fearfully and longingly watching the town’s hip teenagers socializing in the distance. Two of them, enter the shop barely looking at Sara, who tries to hide behind her homework and large headphones. Her naive father (Julián Valcárcel) suggests she should go hang out with them, only adding to the painful awkwardness of the situation; Sara’s mother (Carmen Machi) intervenes too with a dismissive (and borderline nasty) remark toward her. The girls leave, and minutes later, an Instagram image of Sara and her parents hashtagged #trescerditos (three piggies) appears online. And that’s only the tip of the bullying iceberg that Sara has to endure.
Just like recent efforts from filmmakers such as Ninja Thyberg (Pleasure), Rodrigo Sorogoye (Madre), and Philip Barantini (Boiling Point), Carlota Pereda manages to skillfully extend her own short film (the Goya-winning Cerdita) into a high quality feature. She does this by plunging a coming-of-age story into a sea of slow-burn tension and violence stemming from bullying.
The story really kicks off when Sara goes for a swim in the local pool at an unconventional hour to pass unnoticed. Only a quiet man is there finishing his swim (Richard Holmes), but soon, three of her contemporaries arrive to start a gut-wrenching wave of bullying towards her, which includes attempts to drown her and forcing her to walk back home with only a bathing suit on. Using quick editing, David Pelegrín escalates the anxiety of the scene; Pereda directs with such force that, by the end of it, you will be hungry for revenge against the heartless teenagers. But you won’t be waiting long, as the appearance of a serial killer provides a catharsis opportunity for Sara, which creates a complex moral conundrum.
The camera is constantly moving with Sara. Director Pereda wants us to fill the angst, fear, and insecurity of a constant victim of psychological violence caused by other girls and her own aggressive mother. The cruelty shapes the film, creates tension, and draws you into the story. Furthermore, Pereda’s script effortlessly outlines the reasons behind Sara’s quiet personality, thus allowing you to understand the unsettling attraction she starts feeling toward a certain character, one of the few who shows her empathy, without losing investment in her arc.
Between family drama, small town gossip, crime investigation, police interrogations, finger-pointing, and middle of the night searches, the tension keeps piling up thanks to a deceiving script that provides plenty of twists as well as feelings of uneasiness throughout the entire running time. Piggy tries to put you in the shoes of Sara to reflect on how you would react at each violent step the film takes, leading to a gory yet slightly flawed third act where Pereda makes her love toward Texas Chainsaw Massacre abundantly clear.
Laura Galán is astonishing as the vulnerable Sara. She enhances the tension of the film’s situations thanks to her ability to depict a human constantly on the verge of a breaking point. Most of Piggy‘s tension stems from Sara refusing to tell the truth of what she saw; Galán shows us a woman harboring frustration, shame, and rage, whose boiling point could completely shift the story at any moment. This might create a frustrating viewing experience, as you might find yourself screaming at the screen “Just spit it out!,” but that goes to show how brilliantly Pereda treats the moral aspects of the story and its relationship with the overwhelming teenage confusion that Sara is going through.
Sometimes Piggy’s commentary on bullying gets muddled by its own atmosphere of unease, as well as some pace issues in the middle portion. However, Pereda’s fierce directing and Rita Noriega’s searing cinematography manage to straighten the ship, keeping you thoroughly engaged on the main character’s journey. By transporting Sara’s anxiety from the screen to our skin, she manages to create a raw and powerful portrait of teenage cruelty.
Piggy had its world premiere at Sundance 2022 as part of the Midnight program.
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