PIGGY **** France / Spain 2022 Dir: Carlota Pereda. 99 mins
This is writer-director Carlota Pereda’s solo feature directorial debut, adapting her 2018 short CERDITA and bringing back its remarkable star, Laura Galán to expand upon her original performance. The set-up suggests a relatively straight-forward, cathartic, CARRIE-like revenge saga – as does the startling poster image of the bullied protagonist Sara, blood-soaked and alone in the middle of a road. The narrative path cleverly subverts these expectations while telling a wholly empathetic story of Sara’s plight.
Superbly shot in the Academy ratio to emphasise the stifling, insular Spanish community and largely loveless house in which Sara grows up, it offers a harrowing portrait of the torment she faces both at school and on social media. Her obesity provokes an endless stream of cruel “pig” jokes. Her dad seems kind but oblivious to what she faces on a daily basis. Mum is strict and not above name-calling herself: her only advice, way too late after years of domestic neglect, is to suggest eating more greens.
A suitably uncomfortable incident at a swimming pool involving stolen clothes, two bullies and a fishing net, proves to be the key turning point. The “nice(r) girl” character often found in this sub-genre unhelpfully ignores Sara’s cries for help – and Sara in turn repays this when her persecutors face grave danger, just as she endured the agonising humiliation of walking home almost naked.
Galán’s astonishing, fearless performance grounds PIGGY as a compassionate character piece, though it’s far from sentimental and neither the film nor the actress encourage us to pity this long-suffering, unhappy teenager. The central irony of the story plays out superbly: the only person in town who shows her anything approaching attention and kindness is the most disturbed of them all. Though this isn’t his story.
The intense finale refuses to play out the way in which we expect (and hope) it might: as uncomfortable and unpredictable as everything that has come before, it provides a startling end note to one of 2022’s most impressive and powerful genre films.
Review by Steven West