In 2019, director Carlota Pereda made the acclaimed short film “Piggy.” 2022 saw its expansion to feature-film length, with original actress Laura Galán still in the starring role.
The original short–beautifully shot, viscerally felt, impeccably structured, and with a darkly comedic gut-punch of an ending–is the better of the two versions when it comes to pure impact. Its 100-minute counterpart can’t help losing some of that sharp effectiveness, but Pereda selects her dark psychological complications carefully, giving Piggy its own distinct brutality. If the short was a quick stab, a knife slipping between your ribs, the full-length movie then goes on to show you painstakingly trying to wriggle the knife out, wondering all the while if you’re losing too much blood. “Piggy” ends with a teenage girl making a decision; Piggy also throws in what happens when that decision, made in isolation on a dusty back-road, catches up with the real world.
The startlingly effective Galán–her eyes really work wonders here–plays Sara, a teenage girl in small town Spain. Sara is fat, and she’s the daughter of a butcher, and by the cruel calculus of teenagers everywhere, this immediately adds up to her being called “Piggy.” Relentlessly. The closest thing she has to a friend is the kind but weak Claudia (Irene Ferreiro), who will be nice to her only when no one is looking … and Clau is constantly surrounded by a squad of vicious mean girls whose cruel, constant bullying of Sara is reaching dangerous heights. One day, when Sara is out swimming, they torment her, nearly drown her, and steal her clothes and towel, forcing her to walk home in nothing but her bikini. (I call shenanigans on this bikini, honestly. I find it hard to believe that a shy, self-conscious girl who is regularly bullied for her weight is going to voluntarily appear in public in a two-piece. Galán’s actually pretty gorgeous, and I could buy her strolling around in this suit, but her character? Not so much. It feels like a humiliating, nonsensical way to make Sara even more vulnerable, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.)
But while Sara is walking home, a van drives by … with her bullies locked inside, sobbing for help and leaving bloody handprints on the back window. They’ve been kidnapped by an unnamed killer (Richard Holmes) who’s taken an interest in Sara that’s equal parts protective and erotic.
The full-length movie follows Sara as she’s pulled back and forth between the thrill of a dangerous sexual awakening (and the satisfaction of revenge) and her own conscience (and the encroaching investigation into the girls’ disappearance, which complicates everything). It’s a smart, emotionally complex film that’s a superb showcase for Galán … but it does feel like the short film section of it is what will really stick in audience’s minds. The choice Sara makes near the beginning feels fresher and more unique than the one she makes at the end, and that does sap some of the film’s vitality. Fortunately, some incredible and resonant images–especially involving the butcher shop and a later slaughterhouse–and a few more scenes between Galán and Holmes help give Piggy its own distinct pleasures.
Piggy is streaming on Hulu.