.Sins of the Flesh: ‘Piggy’ finds familiar teenage anxieties, and horror, in the rural heart of Spain

The advertising art for Piggy uses what could only be the movie’s money shot: a straight-on portrait of Sara, the central character (Spanish actor Laura Galán), standing defiantly in the middle of the road, covered in blood. 

With the stubborn optimism born of a youth misspent watching horror movies, we innocently hold out hope that writer-director Carlota Pereda’s teenage body-shaming/bullying shockeroo will show us something new, something that deviates from the norm. A captivating characterization, maybe. A few lines of witty dialogue. A situation that has only been floated hundreds of times rather than thousands. Anything. We’re thrilled to announce that Piggy (Spanish title: Cerdita) passes that test. In a manner of speaking. 

Sara, the daughter of a small-town butcher in the autonomous region of Extremadura in Western Spain, is indeed downright obese—perhaps from the steady diet of albondigas, salchichas and lomo de cerdo. Consequently, the local schoolgirls have devoted their lives to taunting her with hurtful nicknames (Miss Bacon, etc.), to the point at which Sara only rarely ventures outside.

She cannot avoid the constant online bullying either, and her mother’s bitter hectoring doesn’t help. When the abuse becomes unbearable, Sara calms herself down by munching cupcakes and candy. As in many other horror pics, matters are slowly coming to a violent head.

Most of the narrow-minded townsfolk pay no attention to Sara’s predicament, as long as it doesn’t involve their families. But, in a departure from the similarly inflected fairytale concept put forth in Stephen King and Brian De Palma’s prom-night massacre Carrie, another character gets involved: a mysterious visitor listed in the credits as El Desconocido (“The Unknown,” played by Richard Holmes).

An ordinary summer afternoon at the village swimming pool takes a deadly turn, and by chance, Sara witnesses a crime that suggests a bizarre emotional link between her and El D—something that simultaneously astounds, terrifies and gratifies her. Her initial response is to clam up and see what develops.

Filmmaker Pereda’s scenario has one or two holes in it. In this turgid catalog of transgressions of the flesh, there are more sins of omission than those of commission. What exactly is El D’s motivation? And how about Pedro (José Pastor), seemingly the only young person in town who’s brave enough to take Sara’s side? 

Sara’s actions and reactions mostly follow along well-established adolescent body-shaming-distress lines, and we don’t really get to know anyone outside her nuclear family, other than the hastily glimpsed father-and-son pair of Guardia Civil police, Juan Carlos (Chema del Barco) and Juancarlitos (Fernando Delgardo-Hierro), well-meaning, but always a step or two behind the action.

Actor Galán, a veteran of Spanish TV, brings a healthy amount of ambiguity to Sara’s basic unhealthiness. Beneath that bulk is a complicated young woman trapped in a terrible dilemma, with a maniac as her only ally. Turns out Sara has her own private version of a sex life. Late at night at home in her bed, she watches internet porn on her phone, under the covers. 

One particular night, El Desconocido magically appears in the room with her, silently observing from the shadows—or is it just a dream? Have these two outsiders formed some sort of emotional/sexual bond? We never really find out. There’s not enough time for any in-depth psychologizing. 

Piggy is the second feature-film directorial effort for filmmaker Pereda, after the ghost-in-a-hospital item The Devil’s Tail (2021) and numerous TV credits. Her 2016 short, Las Rubias (The Blondes), evidently worked much of the same basic ground—the cruel cliquishness of adolescent girls—as Piggy. It’s the familiar teenage combo of ingrown resentments, petty jealousies and sexual insecurity. 

Pereda’s touch with her material offers a female wrinkle to the scenes of lurid grotesquery in the Iberian heartland. After visiting those provinces frequently through the eyes of Guillermo del Toro, it’s a pleasure to appreciate Pereda’s stylistic viewpoint. Let’s see more.

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