PIGGY (CERDITA) is written and directed by Carlota Pereda. It’s a film about a young girl who is bullied by other girls in school, one of whom was formerly her best friend, over her weight. The cruelty that is heaped upon Sara by the school bullies and her family threatens to overwhelm the young and sensitive girl. Meanwhile, a serial killer is at work in the small town where Sara lives and takes notice of how she’s being mistreated. Sara witnesses the kidnapping of the girls who taunted her and her former friend and is terrified, but the killer doesn’t hurt her.
What will Sara do? What can she do? Should she do anything at all?
That’s where PIGGY starts but it has a lot more to say before its denouement. The film has a lot of genre tropes and setups in it, but just when you think you know where it’s going, it takes a quick left turn. The film centers on the plight of the young woman Sara, who has done nothing to deserve the hatred poured on her and you can see her using different strategies to cope but becoming angrier and angrier at her tormentors.
Carlota Pereda has turned the slasher and the revenge story inside out with PIGGY. The elements of both kinds of horror film favorites exist in PIGGY, but it’s centered on the realistic premise and characterizations around emotional abuse and bullying. You might think that isn’t exactly slasher territory, but it is. Where do you think that serial killers come from? If you run your mind back to some of the classics of the genre, bad parenting and bullies figure into those films in some really big ways. Occasionally, you’ll run into a Michael Myers for whom the explanation is simply, “He’s the boogeyman”, but as Hannibal Lecter said himself in Silence of the Lambs, “Our Billy wasn’t born a criminal, Clarice. He was made one through years of systematic abuse.”
PIGGY (CERDITA) is also a coming-of-age story. No one has an easy time of it as a teenager, but teenagers who are different and vulnerable often have the worst transition to adulthood. Pereda’s work with the actors in the film is impeccable. Every part of the story is believable and the actors’ work is phenomenal. She even manages to give the usual stock characters of the local police buffoons a little more gravity and sympathy than usual, but they still aren’t very good at their jobs. There’s a moment with Irene Ferreiro, who plays Claudia, Sara’s former friend where she’s screaming for help that is just devastating and fully believable. It’s not just fear in her face. It’s anger. Anyone who has Spanish blood will recognize the actions and the performances of actors playing Sara’s parents as ringing true. Carmen Machi as Madre and Julián Valcárcel as Padre are those Spanish or Latino parents or aunts and uncles that you know.
Of course, Laura Galán is fantastic as Sara, with a perfectly realized and sympathetic performance. When you watch the film, it’s not just that the POV of the camera is Sara’s POV, the film really makes you step into Sara’s shoes. It gives you a real feel for what it is like to be someone like Sara, hated for no reason but a kind and loving soul nonetheless. The story is hers and it follows her path towards the realization of who she really is. Galán shows real bravery in exposing herself as a human being as much as she does and opening herself to some of the same mockeries that her character experiences in the film. The realistic performances of the actors and the leadership from Pereda as a writer and a director represents some truly outstanding work that uses the genre tropes to explore some really intriguing ideas and terrible failings of human beings.
The cinematography is by Rita Noriega and is as realistic as the rest of the film. You get a sense of the sun-blasted heat of the village during the day when the characters have to go outside and the sense of oppressive heat continues with the subdued lighting of the inside of the homes and outside in the darkness of the countryside. There’s a moment when Sara uses a cell phone as a flashlight and it’s very well done and unsettling. I should also mention that Paula Cámara and Arantza Vélez are the casting directors and they did a splendid job of casting.
The film’s most frightening aspects are the behavior of human beings and the terror that the choices we make engender. It really brings home the idea that our actions, be they kindness or meanness, have consequences, but that also the actions that we don’t take have consequences too. PIGGY (CERDITA) is a very artful film filled with ideas about empathy, some slasher goodness, fright, and horror set-pieces.
With PIGGY, you get your horror fix and food for thought at the same time.