I’ve been working up the courage to watch Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl for two decades now, building its power in my mind as the kind of post-Haneke heartcrusher that’s specifically designed to ruin my day, and possibly my entire life. The high-style, low-budget thriller Piggy is as close as I’ve gotten to taking that icy Breillat plunge to date, as it processes a lot of the same squirmy coming-of-age discomforts through more recognizable, digestible genre tropes. Piggy also has a dark, winking sense of humor to it that keeps the mood oddly light as it stares down the ugliest truths of an outcast youth. Since I haven’t yet seen Fat Girl and not enough of the general public has seen The Reflecting Skin for that comparison to be meaningful, let’s go ahead and call Piggy an update of Welcome to the Dollhouse for the Instagram era. It’s the kind of button-pushing indie that’s made entirely of pre-existing genre building blocks, so it’s easy to discuss entirely through its similarities to earlier titles, but it still feels freshly upsetting & perversely fun in the moment.
“Piggy” is, of course, a term of disendearment lobbed at our teenage anti-heroine by her thinner, more popular bullies. While her peers pose pretty for a nonstop flood of Instagram hearts, Sara cowers behind the counter of her family’s butcher shop, desperately hoping to coast her way through puberty unnoticed. Her bullies are relentless, though, whether they’re the teen girls who oink at her from the side of the public pool or her overbearing mother who berates her for letting candy stain her teeth & expand her belly. That’s why she’s in no particular rush to rat out her neighborhood serial killer, who shows parasocial sympathy for Sara’s plight by abducting & torturing all of her harshest critics. Every second Sara withholds the killer’s identity & location from local cops, it becomes increasingly unlikely her nemeses will be recovered all in one piece. It’s a trade-off she’s willing to make, though, at least of a while. She’s finally found the space to develop as an independent young adult on the other side of the butcher counter without her bullies suffocating her – using her newfound freedom to experiment with teenage thrills like masturbation, marijuana, and lies. Besides, she’s developed an incredibly inappropriate crush on her adult serial killer “friend,” so there’s plenty incentive to just sit back & see how it all plays out.
There’s a satisfying, upsetting progression to how Sara’s violently accelerated maturation is matched by director Carlota Pereda’s visual aesthetic. There’s a soft, pink innocence & nostalgia to the film’s earliest scenes that feels totally at home in teen girls’ Instagram feeds & bedroom decor. By the final stretch, Sara is submerged in the dingy dungeon greys of the torture porn 2000s, losing her childhood innocence to her own newfound selfishness. It’s a worthwhile journey, as she emerges from the other end of that blood-drenched tunnel as a much more confident, fully formed person. Piggy is more of a character study than a proper thriller in that way; everything is in service of tracking Sara’s emotional development. And since it recalls so many coming-of-age horror stories that came before it, all it can really accomplish is to add Sara’s name to the list of all-time great outsiders who’ve already Gone Through It onscreen: Dawn Wiener, Maya Ishii Peters, Anna Kone, Dawn Davenport, Juliet Hulme, etc. I have no clue where Anaïs Pingot of Fat Girl infamy resides on that prestigious list, but I hope to one day have the courage to find out.