Directed by: Carlota Pereda || Produced by: Merry Colomer
Screenplay by: Carlota Pereda || Starring: Laura Galán, Richard Holmes, Carmen Machi, Irene Ferreiro, Camille Aguilar, Claudia Salas, Pilar Castro
Music by: Olivier Arson || Cinematography: Rita Noriega || Edited by: David Pelegrin || Country: Spain, France || Language: Spanish
Running Time: 99 minutes
The only element of habitual tragedies like mass shootings in the United States, Islamic extremist attacks in France, Neo-Nazi groups in Germany, etc. that stands out to me anymore are the occasional commentaries on whether bullying of or by the armed perpetrators prior to their crimes tied into their violent criminality in any way. Although mainstream movies rarely have the balls to examine those aforementioned types of extremist behavior outside of the occasional heavy-handed awards-bait, films have loved over-the-top bullying since at least the 1970s-1980s Hollywood coming-of-age flicks like Carrie (1976), A Christmas Story (1983), The Karate Kid (1984), Back to the Future, and The Breakfast Club (both 1985). I like most of those movies, but have always found their portrayals of adolescent conflict so cartoonish it’s a wonder most of their characters didn’t become criminals as adults after all the abuse they dealt before high school graduation.
My affection for the solo feature-film directorial debut of one Carolota Pereda, Cerdita (English = “Piggy” or “Little Female Pig”), is based in part on its related line of thinking with respect to the adolescent socially empowered and victimized. The movie follows an overweight teenaged girl (Laura Galán) whose body image and family background (the character’s working-class family runs a neighborhood butcher shop) are mocked by her secondary school female classmates (Claudia Salas, Irene Ferreiro, Camille Aguilar). This premise comes alive once a murderous stranger (Richard Holmes) kidnaps Galán’s tormentors in front her, and thereafter Galán is torn between notifying the police or letting her bullies “get what they deserve.” From this point forward, Piggy evolves into a tense thriller whereby Holmes stalks Galán and her eastern Spanish Villanueva de la Vera community, gauging whether to target or ally himself with her; Galán, in turn, becomes enmeshed with her neighbors’ desperate search for these otherwise cruel but outwardly sympathetic missing persons. This seesawing relatability between various castmembers dovetails with the cat-and-mouse game between Holmes and Galán throughout Piggy, culminating in a visceral third act climax that allows its protagonist one of the better hard choices in modern screenwriting.
Though Piggy’s solid freaking script has a creative central conflict that plays with conventional ideas of morality, my favorite aspects of the film are (1) its balanced yet detailed portrayal of small town life from a genre (Thriller? Rural horror?) perspective, and (2) director Pereda and cinematographer Rita Noriega’s excellent visualization of suspense. Most lesser dramatic cinema might build a believable portrait of an intimate, perhaps underrepresented subculture, spending 90+ minutes on forgettable slice-of-life activities that leave little to no long-term impact on the viewer, but Piggy’s creepy, foreboding genre attributes enhance its cultural setting; the audience is given more reason to care about the intricacies of how this rural Spanish community operates and whose stable relationships affect others, and why. On the one hand, Holmes’ presence as an aggressive, vicious killer ensures that no character is safe in this isolated setting, while on the other, Galán’s indecision with respect to her tormentors’ captivity maintains a ticking clock that raises narrative stakes the longer the story lasts. Compounding this suspense is how more and more of the neighborhood watch frantically search for Salas, Ferreiro, and Aguilar the closer Holmes stalks Galán, a relationship accentuated by Pereda and Noriega’s camerawork.
Before the movie enters quasi-horror territory in its third act, most of Piggy’s visual tension is described by clever blocking and subtle yet alarming background details that pop into and out of frame without calling attention to themselves. The introduction of Holm’s serial killer at a local swimming pool, for example, is conveyed via an almost unnoticeable oner that shows his soon-to-be first kill (a male lifeguard) chitchatting with his soon-to-be first abduction (a female bartender), both of whom casually interact with Holmes who’s shot almost out of frame with his back to the camera. When Galán is harassed by the aforementioned bullies a few minutes later, almost drowning at their hand, she dives underwater to escape them and fails to notice the same lifeguard tied to a chair at the bottom of the pool. This neat trend of blocking important story details in the background of wide-angle long shots continues throughout Piggy — some of the tensest moments of the film involve Galán sneaking from place to place, hiding from her family and neighbors, as she attempts to insulate herself from the wider criminal investigation into the town’s rising mortality rate.
Top to bottom, writer-director Carlota Pereda’s severe yet believable depiction of teenaged bullying leaves an impression on the viewer thanks to its intense genre flourishes, utilizing small town-paranoia and a serial killer-antagonist to confront more common, everyday sociopolitical crimes that most communities prefer to overlook. Director of photography Rita Noriega works with Pereda’s excellent acting direction across a memorable cast to illustrate this cinematic contrast, where the horrific but mundane is center-framed in the foreground but even worse, far more violent behavior takes place in the background at the edges of the frame.
Getting picked on or looked down upon as a kid, I always thought, encouraged diminutive pacifism or cynical depression rather than aggressive outward violence. As satisfied as I feel about Piggy’s nuanced, scary realism, I remain unsettled at how unsure I am about the decisions my teenaged self would’ve made had I experienced what this movie’s protagonist did. Would I join an extremist cell “to take out my anger against society?” Probably not. Would I have rushed to report similar awful crimes against such terrible, otherwise socially empowered peers of mine? That depends on the definition of “rushed”…
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: A sociopolitical treatise on adolescent misery as much as it is a psycho-killer melodrama, Carlota Pereda’s first solo feature directorial credit elevates the cinematic merit of both those concepts rather than resting on the supposed importance of its social commentary. Great casting, framing, and solid scriptwriting make Piggy a winner.
—> RECOMMENDED for the spiteful, sympathetic loser in you.