Director: Carlota Pereda
Stars: Laura Galán, Claudia Salas, Irene Ferreiro
Its a sad fact of our global preoccupation with looks and weight that depictions of fat people on our screens are often tied to narratives about their size. And, even more commonly these days, such parts are portrayed by actors known for their good looks and slim waists, garnering praise for ‘transforming’ via prosthetics or extreme diets. Look no further than the current awards season and The Whale. Unless you’re funny, the overweight movie star has, with a few notable exceptions, remained elusive. And if you’re funny, well, you’d better have a thick skin about your size.
It’s the way of the world (or the weigh of the world if you’ll pardon a near inexcusable pun), but that doesn’t make it just. Criticising our prejudices, director Carlota Pereda has conjured an effective serial killer horror with a sympathetic, (naturally) overweight protagonist, though its the kind of scaled genre effort unlikely to single-handedly turn any tides. It is also a shade compromised.
Sara (Laura Galán) is an overweight teenage girl who lives in a small Spanish town. Daughter of the local butcher, she is mocked by her svelte peers; a nasty set of girls who mockingly call her “piggy’, giving the film it’s title. When Sara witnesses one of the girls being abducted by a predator (Richard Holmes) in a van who is working the area, she finds herself in a predicament. Sara is glad that her tormentor has had some form of comeuppance, even if its a retribution of extremes. Timid and harangued by her mother (Carmen Machi), Sara starts playing detective to learn the identity of the lurking menace (himself overweight) whom she also finds sexually attractive. As she does so we’re encouraged to wonder whether she’ll put pay to his crimes… or aid and abet him.
Piggy is at its most successful and sympathetic when its sharing with the audience Sara’s sense of sad isolation, be that moments of sexual desire that she’s been raised to feel ashamed of or, more simply, the day-to-day sense of engrained inferiority that she carries wherever she goes. The genre elements distract or temper the overarching urge to make this a pity exercise, keeping Piggy largely from falling into problematic freakshow leering. Still, Pereda does tend to linger as though wide-eyed on Sara’s exposed flesh even though her film is clearly intended as representational, however thorny the manifestation.
Warm colours bathe the nighttime scenes that are backed by the constant chirp of cicadas, evoking rural Spain with economy and complimenting the flushes of pink that dominate the daytime elements of the picture; from Sara’s own exposed flesh to the rough hewn pig skins that adorn the butcher’s shop. Conflation between the two seems dangerously inevitable, but Pereda maintains a deft space… until she doesn’t. The workmanlike butchery at the start of the picture is given a sickly workover come the end; a stalk-and-slash sequence in an abandoned abattoir that drains the film of it’s prior colour and evokes the queasy essence of mid-’00s torture porn. Piggy starts to feel like a craven US remake of itself. Depending on your attitude to those films, your mileage may dissipate or exponentially increase.
Prior to this, Piggy spirals into a by-the-numbers tale of the expected prejudices when the town turns against Sara for withholding evidence. There may as well be a mob wielding pitchforks. As such the overall is fitful, rarely egregious but lacking in the thrills it so keenly wishes to wield.
As a treaty on body-shaming – both thanks to and in spite of it’s ungainly, venomous title – Piggy is a moderate success. And yet it’s a little too pedestrian in its approach and convoluted in its execution. It still feels as though we’re only seeing fatness as a sob story or, worse, as something monstrous. Something that is justifiably ‘othered’. Sara is as pitiable and reviled as Frankenstein’s monster. If what’s presented here is damning of such kneejerk responses, it’s not wholly above them either. There’s still a sense of fixation, fetishisation and grim fascination here that permeates what would have been more refreshing to see normalised, even in some ways celebrated. Galán is very good in the movie but, come the end, there’s more a sense of fatigue than victory.