‘Piggy’ Review: A Tender but Uneven Cut

To see a fat woman on the silver screen as something other than a dowdy matron or pitiable joke is in and of itself worth remarking on, and Carlota Pereda’s Piggy affords its protagonist, Sara (Laura Galán) more depth and complexity than the vast majority of films which deign to feature fat women at all. That the film around Galán seems uncertain about what it wants to explore through its protagonist’s painful and humiliating life as a fat teenager only slightly dampens the seething, ferociously internal power of her performance. Galán’s sullen and defensive affect plays on her size, and in many scenes she appears to physically draw back into herself, shoulders hunched, head bent, legs pressed tightly together to occupy as little space as possible. She gives the impression of having been buffeted for as long as she can remember by the wind and rain of others’ perceptions. Her very existence is embattled.

Piggy is at its sharpest in its first act as it sketches a rough outline of Sara’s life in the tight-knit Spanish town of Villanueva de la Vera. Her controlling, hypercritical mother (Carmen Machi), apathetic father (Julián Valcárcel), and combative little brother (Amets Otxoa) hem her in completely, leaving no word or action uncommented upon. Her childhood friend Clau (Irene Ferreiro) now hangs out with vicious bullies who film and photograph Sara with their phones and post her image to group chats and social media, all under the noses of willfully blind adults. When a serial killer (Richard Holmes) attacks and abducts a group of Sara’s tormentors shortly after they ambush her at a public pool and steal her clothes and towel, forcing her to walk home nearly naked, it’s not hard to understand why she keeps her mouth shut about it.

Piggy

Psycho Killer…Qu’est-ce Que C’est?

Unfortunately, it’s just as Lara’s repressed rage escalates the film’s dramatic stakes that things begin to come apart. Holmes fails to find a dramatic voice for his would-be monster, who comes off as more empty than mysterious and whose pseudo-romantic connection to Sara never goes anywhere particularly interesting. The movie’s action scenes are indifferently shot — a sharp contrast to the beauty of earlier underwater photography and the care with which Sara is lit and framed in her bikini, at once softly, delicately beautiful and trying to disappear into the set. There is little tension in its violent imagery, and even the extremity of its final gory moments lacks the full commitment to grotesquery that might have led to something truly memorable. In addition, Piggy never digs into Sara’s work in a butcher shop and its resonance with the nickname that haunts her, or with the setting of its final suspense sequence.

Even the final act’s most interesting image, Sara letting go of Pedro’s (José Pastor) waist as he drives her back to town on his motorcycle and tilting her face up to the sky as though contemplating falling back and injuring or killing herself, is hampered by distracting digital photography, sky and field and forest rendered overly distinct and hyperreal. Piggy is a fascinating but frustrating film, just ambitious enough to make its shortcomings that much more of a letdown. In Galán’s stunning lead performance and its flashes of brutal insight into the lives of fat girls are the seeds of something fully as great as the films to which it pays homage most clearly — classics like Stand By Me and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre — but as a director, Pereda just isn’t there yet.