by Hope Madden
Mean girls are a fixture in cinema, from Mean Girls to Carrie, Heathers to Jawbreaker to Napoleon Dynamite and countless others. Why is that? It’s because we like to see mean girls taken down.
Writer/director Carlota Pereda wants to challenge that base instinct. But first, she is going to make you hate Maca (Claudia Salas), Roci (Camille Aguilar) and Claudia (Irene Ferreiro). In one tiny Spanish town, the three girls make Sara’s (Laura Galán, remarkable) life utterly miserable. Like worse than Carrie White’s.
And though Sarah’s relationship with her mother (Carmen Machi) is a rose garden compared to the one Carrie shares with her wacko mom, things could be better. Sarah’s mom veers from unobservant to dismissive to defensive. Even when she’s trying to be helpful, that aid comes with a heaping dose of insensitivity.
But it’s those pretty, skinny high school girls whose contempt nearly kills Sarah. In a scene that’s difficult to forget, cruelty blossoms into something brutal and horrifying as Sarah tries to take advantage of a nearly empty swimming pool.
Traumatized by the afternoon, a dazed Sara makes a choice that she will wrestle with for the balance of the film. Pereda doesn’t present a simple, single reason for what Sarah does. Or, more to the point, does not do.
In this scene and all others, the filmmaker complicates every trope, all the one-dimensional victim/hero/villain ideas this genre and others feast on. Redemption doesn’t come easily to anyone. Pereda also seamlessly blends themes and ideas from across the genre, upending expectations but never skimping on brutal, visceral horror.
Much of that horror would feel unearned were it not for substantial performances from every member of the cast. But Sarah is the most complicated character by far, and Galán performance is a reckoning. She’s utterly silent for long stretches, Sarah trying to make herself invisible. It’s in those still moments that Galán shines most fiercely.
Piggy is a tough watch, there’s no doubt. It’s also a ferocious and stunning piece of horror cinema.