I was bullied relentlessly as a kid…
…Because of that, I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the “revenge of the bullied” genre of horror. Carrie, Terror Train, Evilspeak…all of them provide some amount of catharsis (who doesn’t love seeing bullies get theirs?), but at the same time it’s difficult to watch the bullied become the monster. We’re not the monsters, yet horror has a long history of portraying us as such. With writer/director Carlota Pereda’s new film Piggy, which just had its world premiere at Sundance, we’re given a different kind of revenge film.
Based on Pereda’s short film of the same name, Piggy centers around Sara (Laura Galan), an overweight teen who works with her parents at their butcher shop. Sara doesn’t have any friends. The other kids call her Piggy. They pick on and torment her. After an awful encounter with a trio of girls at the pool, Sara later finds those girls in trouble with a killer and is forced to make a choice that could haunt her forever.
Piggy isn’t just the sort of revenge film bullied kids like me crave. It’s the sort of revenge film bullied kids deserve to see more of.
I would’ve given anything for a film like Piggy when I was younger. Why? No matter what decisions Sara makes, Pereda does not treat her like the monster. Sara isn’t what the other kids perceive her as. She’s a human being. She has feelings. Like any human, she makes bad decisions. But those decisions are not what defines Sara. People are more complicated than their worst choices. Pereda approaches the character with a deep sympathy that feels personal and genuine. Sara isn’t the girl with terrifying telekinetic powers or the malicious murderer who snaps after being pushed too far. She’s a lost, frightened child, scared of her own anger. Pereda makes certain that we care deeply about Sara, so that no matter what she does, we understand her.
But of course I can’t talk about the relatability of the character without mentioning Galan’s heartbreaking performance. In a festival where I’ve seen standouts like Rebecca Hall and Maika Monroe stealing the scene, Galan outshines them all. Galan brings an immense pain and vulnerability to the character of Sara that is damn near unbearable. Especially for someone like me who has been there with her. Pereda’s writing is incredibly powerful, yet Galan manages to take it to another level. She has that ability where she can be vulnerable yet carries something dark within that is unpredictable. You never know for sure what Sara will do. But whatever she does, Galan keeps you on her side. You will cry with her. You will panic with her. You will scream in rage and agony and frustration with her. Galan is a star, and it would be a travesty if the whole world doesn’t know it soon.
Piggy is raw, honest filmmaking at its finest. It barrels towards you like an oncoming freight train, pissed off and shrieking with a passion so loud your eardrums threaten to burst. The film itself is actually pretty quiet, with a subdued yet eerie score from Olivier Arson, but you get my drift. Piggy is intense. This film bares the soul of a tortured teenage girl, and it’s uncomfortable. Piggy makes you squeal with vicious violence, Sara’s propensity for doing the wrong thing, and a sexual fantasy that is just plain wrong to the rest of us, but not so much for a confused, hurt girl. Very few scenes in Piggy are what I’d call “pleasant”. This is a morally complex film that challenges the viewer again and again and again until you’re not sure you can take it anymore, but you keep going because you have to know how it all ends.
Piggy is the perfect midnight movie snack.
The tension in Piggy is as thick as a massive hunk of pork. Pereda strings Sara and the audience up over a roasting fire, apple shoved in our mouths, and lets us cook. Literally. Taking place under the burning summer sun, every second of Piggy feels hot and sweaty. The heat enhances the discomfort, a metaphor for the gnawing emotions eating Sara up inside. It’s dirty. It’s grimy. The look and feel of Piggy screams grindhouse. Pereda’s film is a brutal experience, one that doesn’t shy away from bloody violence nor the ugliness of human nature. This is the most gruesome film I saw at Sundance, and the festival included a movie with cannibalism!
Piggy isn’t self-indulgent with the violence though. This isn’t gore for gore’s sake. Pereda’s intent is to unleash the deepest, darkest primality that exists buried within us all. Piggy is an animal of a movie. I doubt you’ll find much this year that cuts as deep or as savagely as this film.
The meat isn’t all perfect. Piggy does have its spoiled bits. It tries to do a little too much with Sara and the killer stalking the streets, at times overcomplicating things and getting a bit messy, particularly in the second half. But ultimately, that’s okay. Piggy is all about being messy, because people are messy.
Emotional. Cathartic. Supremely fucked up. Piggy won’t leave you hungry. It’s a juicy burger cooked rare that bleeds when you bite into it. It’s the kind of bullied revenge film I always wanted to see more of as a kid, one that treats its characters with a compassionate honesty. Bullied kids need the catharsis they get from films like this, but they also need to leave those films knowing they’re not a monster. Messed up, maybe, but knowing that they have the choice whether to be the villain or not in their own story.
Grab a fork and knife and eat this film up.
By Matt Konopka
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