Sundance Film Festival 2022 Review: Piggy ★★★★

Writer-director Carlota Pereda presents an impressive showcase for actress Laura Galán in Piggy with this gruesome morality tale examining themes of empathy and retribution. Striking cinematography conjuring up genre classics and visceral direction helps this Spanish feature leave a lasting impression.

Working at her father’s butcher shop in rural Spain during the blazing summer months Sara (Galán) strives to fit in. She sits longingly scrolling social media studying the fun and connection shared by her peers. These are peers who unfortunately torment Sara, labelling her ‘Piggy’ and targeting her for her weight – leading to a particularly traumatic moment of bullying at the local town pool. The arrival of stranger who later kidnaps Sara’s bullies yet chooses to protect Sara places the young woman in an uncomfortable position. Deciding to keep quiet about what she witnessed, Sara faces inner conflict as the police attempt to tease details from her about the missing girls. The repeat striking of the kidnapper whose behaviour strikes fear into the town begins to ignite Sara’s intrigue about her peculiar saviour.

Rita Noriega’s cinematography captures the sun-baked small town with a clammy unease and delivers an uneasy foreshadowing in titles showcasing the brutal hacking and slicing of meat. The grotesque blood reds and pinks of these titles veer into the colours of the butcher’s shop – Noriega shooting the shop with soft pink pastel tones with the colour of raw meat projected by the glass of the protective windows. As events delve increasingly further into the horror realm, Noriega makes the most of eerily quiet rural settings and brooding rusted irons of the kidnapper’s hiding location – evoking the grisly imagery of genre classics such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Pereda’s narrative fully invests us in the struggles faced by Sara from the film’s earliest moments. Encouraged to socialise with her peers by her parents, we see Sara discover a social media post made by one of her bullies, a photo discreetly taken in the butcher’s shop captioned ‘The Three Little Pigs’ tapping into the brutal cruelty of cyberbullying. Matters escalate as Sara ventures to the local pool where the same girls – including former childhood friend – proceed to steal her bag, clothes and towel and hit her with the pool’s net. The grimy realism of the setting paired with the repugnant behaviour from the bullies creates a truly unpleasant fusion, with Pereda directing events with a claustrophobic intensity and sharp visceral sense of tension.

A traumatic semi-naked walk home presents further harrowing, gut-wrenching horrors for Sara, laying the groundwork and justification for the victim’s silence when she has the opportunity to reveal the answer to the mystery of the missing girls. Fitting into a similar mould to features like Carrie, documenting small-town nastiness and female insecurities, Piggy sees the tables turned with Sara suddenly in the position of power, the holder of information that may save her tormentors. Pereda confidently explores Sara’s getting to grips with that power in the film’s following scenes where the young woman finds herself continually intrigued and drawn to the violent mute kidnapper. Piggy throws in numerous enigmatic curveballs into its narrative with a sense of potential romance lingering between Sara and this mysterious figure – conflicted in numerous ways – is he a protector to her? A threat? Or a potential love interest?

The genre elements that Pereda introduces and the grisliness are no match for the harrowing trauma endured by Sara from her peers. Surely a conscious decision which makes the film’s closing arc all the more powerful as the girl is faced with questions of retribution and redemption for her tormenters. Throughout Piggy Laura Galán excels. It is never quite clear what Sara is thinking with Galán depicting her steps with an ambiguous mystique. A performance free from too much dialogue, Galán captures Sara’s continued concerns with her body image throughout the feature – most explicitly in the film’s uncomfortable bullying incidents when the young girl is left exposed to the prolonged cruelty of her abuser’s behaviour.

Piggy delivers a grimy sense of well-constructed nastiness thanks to its murky blood-soaked cinematography and its tense, excruciating eye for the cruelty of which humans are capable. Its moral take on retribution and empathy result in a thrilling performance from promising lead Laura Galán.

Piggy plays as part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Find out more details here.

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