Gutsy Sundance Horror Thriller ‘Piggy’ Broken Down by Director Carlota Pereda

Avoiding the heady and idyllic world of adolescent coming-of-age tales ever-familiar to viewers, Spanish writer-director Carlota Pereda presents a brazen look into the psyches of youth; their faults, rage, and insecurity. In this award-winning short-turned-feature, Pereda, known for nudging the boundaries of genre, delivers a roundhouse kick, annihilating them.

“Piggy” (“Cerdita”) is set in a serene but suspect rural town, Extremadura, where our anti-heroine Sara (Laura Galán) emerges, wrought with anxiety and crippling trauma from the abuse she endures at the hands of her hostile and popular peers. Untamed cruelty ensues and, with each heartbreaking take, the viewer becomes Sara and all of those mixed-up emotions she holds tightly inside.

Sold by Charades in international and represented for the U.S. by XYZ Films, “Piggy” relays an unnerving tale that sets the tone for introspection. The trouble lies not only with the youth and its folly but within the town as a whole and the mysterious and homicidal stranger (Richard Holmes) who takes on the role of unsolicited savior. What appears to be a simple story of teenage strife unfolds into multiple storylines, woven together. The film reveals, in the end, that women don’t necessarily need someone to avenge them.

Produced by Morena Films and Backup Media, “Piggy” participated in Cannes’ Focus CoPro while still in development. It won its Pop Up Residency and also earned the Ventana Sur prize at Ventana CineMad.

Ahead of the film’s virtual debut at Sundance on Monday, Pereda spoke with Variety about the film, bodies, bullies, and where her cinematic vision might take her next.

With the pace of the shots, some scenes felt stuck in time. Can you speak a little on how you used pace and timing, how important were they to you while transforming Piggy from short film to feature?

I really thought this movie through. I really wanted to trap the audience into Sara’s reality. The idea was to make really long shots, to really have the sense that you couldn’t escape from that. That’s one of the reasons we chose the academic format, to be more claustrophobic. I always end up taking more shots and always have more editing because, in the end, I’m too nervous and I want to keep on going and going. I wanted it to be as simple as possible so there weren’t many things distracting us from her.

The short was 14 minutes, so you have to be very abstract. The short was something I wanted to make with no music, generally filming in plain daylight, and with the idea to trap her in your reality. But of course, in the short, you cant’ go into details. For example, the three girls in the short are almost identical. They have the same hairdo, they wear the same clothes with little variation. Here, the idea was the other way around. To make it more real, to have more layers. The more layers, the better. Even though it’s simple, you can really understand how these three different girls do what they do for very different reasons. From Sara’s perspective, too. Everything at the beginning of the film tells you something about how her life is, and what she does, or what she knows. That’s why you have the rabbits at the beginning, you know that she just shot them. Everything is telling you the story even when you don’t realize it is.

The close-up shots provide extreme intimacy, as if viewers are right there with Sara, in her body. The pool scene, in particular. How you used the POV shot to portray that anxiety was stomach-churning. Did you ever have the idea to shoot that differently, or was POV the only way to go for that particular scene?

When I write the screenplay, if you read it, it would be the same thing as the movie. Because, when I write, first I have to visualize what I’m going to do. For me, it was always her story, and always had to be her point of view. Here, we don’t include the audience as much as we did in the short. For me, the most important thing was that people go through her journey with her, hand-in-hand. There was never another option. The whole idea of this story is that the camera, the way we shot Sara, has to do with her journey throughout the movie. First, we were always trying to trap her into things when she was always screaming to do something else. The camera is a bit higher than she is until the end. The camera rarely moves in the beginning of the film. Then, as things start to get going, we start to move with her, with the camera and we start framing her differently. It’s wider. The only crane shot in the movie is the end. We were really, really manic, OCD with it and always talking, “we gotta move the camera, we gotta move the camera.”

Your film led to questions about the onscreen portrayal of male versus female anger. Women with those emotions are often portrayed as crazy, hormonal, or too sensitive, while men with that same rage are seen almost as valiant, masculine. How important was it for you to showcase those emotions inversely?

For me, it was very important. I wanted to express the idea of the bad boyfriend and the bad guys, the glamorization that we do. Also, how sometimes when you’re a teen, the first guy that lays eyes on you, your friends are almost telling you, “oh, you should go out with him,” like, why, just because he noticed me? No. So, all of those things. I wanted to express this kind of weird thing that the audience is almost rooting for her to go out with him….

The way you portrayed Sara’s form in the film was unique. We don’t see varied versions of the female body enough in cinema. Not only is Sara’s body coveted by the stranger, but it also allows her to hunt, swim, run….What would you like people to take away from the way you showcase Sara’s body in this film? Not simply as object for the male gaze, but something far more.

I want them so see her for what she is. She is a complex human being, she’s a beautiful human being, and she’s beautiful because she’s flawed. That’s what is important, that you can redeem yourself. For me, there’s a thousand different people in the world and there’s beauty in every single one of us. I’m just so tired of seeing the same things over and over again. I’m just really bored. I’m also very tired of seeing that victims have to be victims. No! Victims are people too, and they don’t have to be defined by that. She’s experienced bullying but she’s more than that.

Bullying, in your film, is taken to greater depths than other teen movies, even other thrillers that tend to gloss over it. What were the things you wanted to incorporate to ensure that it presented a more striking example of that reality?

There is this thing called the frivolity of evil. Also, I’ve experienced bullying, a lot, when I was a teen. So, there’s something that just…you’re in the middle of a beautiful pool and that stuff happens. It’s very, very violent and there’s nothing fun about it. I also wanted the character of Claudia, the friend, to see how violent it is for her, as well. See how it’s something that really taints anyone that’s around it. If she’s so violent about it, the girl who does it, she has some kind of wound as well. It’s this circle of violence that is within society. You have to stop it somewhere. I just wanted to make it as realistic as possible because I don’t want to glamorize it, at all. I want people to see how violence breeds violence. I don’t want you to leave the movie feeling good about yourself because this is not a public service announcement, it’s something to disturb you so you think about it.

What are you excited to tackle next? Are there concepts you’re dying to delve into or genres you’re looking forward to playing with?

I consider myself a storyteller. I want to tell stories that move me. I want to make movies that are a lot like windows, that you can look at the world through. I want to open doors and push the audience into that reality. For me, in a sense, movies have to be entertaining, first of all. But, everything is political. Everything is political. And, if you say it’s not political, it’s because it’s political. I have a couple of things coming up. I have another adaptation of one of my shorts that is called, “The Blondes,” and it’s about identity, it’s a thriller. I have another story which is about motherhood and it’s a fantasy/horror film.

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Carlota Pereda Credit: Charades