Writer-director Carlota Pereda’s “Piggy” is a genre-busting, expectations-defying thriller about a morbidly-obese teen whose has her revenge on those who label her “Cerdita” (little pig.).
Only it’s not a straight-up vengeance story, even though bloody enough to fit under the heading “horror.” We see means girls and small town provincialism, a monstrously oppressive mother who can be nurturing and protective and a serial killer who might be our heroine’s avenging angel.
Every time we relax into our smug “I know where this is going,” Pereda finds a way to trip us up.
Laura Galán plays our plump teen from a plump family. She’s a lonely heroine who stress-eats, comfort-eats and eats eats. Sara works in the family butcher shop, and this being Extremadura, Spain, she has learned her way around a hog carcass, thanks to Dad (Julián Valcárcel) and the bossy, chorizo-making mom (Carmen Machi) who is always criticizing Sara for being “lazy.”
But her parents don’t know Sara’s interior life, or the ridicule she faces from her peers. Her childhood chum Claudia (Irene Ferreiro) may still come in the shop. But outside, with no adults around, Claudia follows the lead of her mean girl pals — the venomous Maca (Claudia Salas) and sidekick Roci (Camille Aguilar) — picking on Sara.
They take their Sara tormenting to its biggest extreme at the spring-fed town pool, where Sara can’t even take a swim in peace.
“Check out her bikini,” Maca sneers, in Spanish with English subtitles. “Her body just swallows it.”
Maca goes so far as to try and hold Sara underwater during her taunting, and we think “Uh oh.” Sara is so frantic to escape underwater that she doesn’t notice the body, tied-up and weighed-down at the bottom of the pool.
As we’ve seen the sketchy guy (Richard Holmes) hanging around the pool earlier, we think “Uh oh” again.
But what will Sara do, when she’s stumbling home, humiliated and in her overwhelmed bikini because Maca stole her clothes and backpack, and she sees the bloodied girls stuffed into the back of the creeper’s truck, pleading for Sara’s help?
The performances are mostly quick sketches of character “types,” but quite good for what they are. The indulgent, overweight dad, the small town cop who has brought his eager beaver son onto the force, means girls being mean, parents who lash-out at everyone when their mean daughters go missing.
Pereda flirts with black comedy, here and there, but never wholly gives in to it. We see Sara’s tearful rage at Maca’s latest bit of social media shaming. She ducks into the meat locker to weep, and we spy a child on the floor, blood on his face. Oh, that’s just her kid brother, taking a nap someplace cool. Off-camera shrieks? Those are just kids frolicking at the pool.
The film’s efforts at body-shaming commentary are also something Pereda considers but doesn’t lose herself in. It can’t be a coincidence that the serial killer has a bit of a pot belly himself. As in the French film “Fat Girl,” there’s a hint of Sara being so lonely and lovelorn that she’s drawn to the first guy to show any interest in her at all, even if he’s a monster.
But give it up for Pereda’s sleight of hand here. She keeps tripping us up, pointing us one way and then taking her movie in another direction.
It’s a hard, pitiless abattoir-edgy film with darkly humorous touches. By the time this little “Piggy” is over, you may find yourself doing what Sara and no self-respecting Spaniard could ever do — swear off pork.
Rating: unrated, graphic violence
Cast: Laura Galán, Carmen Machi, Irene Ferreiro, Julián Valcárcel, Fernando Delgado-Hierro, Pilar Castro and Claudia Salas
Credits: Scripted and directed by Carlota Pereda. A Magnet/Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:40