By MICHAEL GINGOLD
After inspiring a great deal of discussion and very positive reviews (including ours) on the festival circuit, Spanish writer/director Carlota Pereda’s PIGGY (CERDITA) makes its U.S. theatrical debut today at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, followed by more theatrical bookings and VOD release next Friday, October 14. RUE MORGUE spoke with Pereda about her film, which combines two different kinds of trauma.
Laura Galán stars in a devastating performance as Sara, an overweight teenager who’s a target of constant bullying and shaming in her small village, even from her family. One day, a trio mean girls subject her to especially vicious harassment at a nearby pool, and steal her clothes. But as she’s walking home down a rural road in her bikini, she spots an idling van with a scary-looking stranger (Richard Holmes) at the wheel–and those three girls trapped in the back. After he drives off, Sara is left with the choice of revealing what she saw or leaving her tormentors to their fate, and comes under pressure in town to reveal what she knows about the missing girls–even as she has further encounters with the killer. Expanding on her Goya Award-winning short, and shooting in an oppressive 1:33.1 aspect ratio, Pereda has crafted a psychologically intense and sometimes brutally violent coming-of-age thriller with PIGGY.
You’ve said that you didn’t conceive the short film with the intention of expanding it into a feature, so at what point did you arrive at that decision?
It was actually by the end of the shoot, when I was filming the last scene. We shot chronologically, and I realized that Sara had such a good conflict that I just couldn’t let go. At the same time, I just fell in love with the character of Sara, and I had this amazing actress, and it was such a good combo that it would be a lost opportunity to not go further.
I’ve read that Laura Galán was in her 30s when she played the part…
Yeah, she was in her 30s when we made the short, now she’s a bit older.
So how did you work with her to create this teenage character?
We talked a lot about how she would move. I love working with actors, and for me, acting is such a physical process. We did go together to observe teenagers, and we discussed how she would breathe and how she would walk. I just pointed her in the right direction, and the rest was up to her, basically. She’s just so talented.
Her character goes through some pretty humiliating and uncomfortable situations; were there any difficulties in the filming of those scenes?
Well, we became really good friends during the short, and so we discussed everything about this movie–how we would shoot it, how far we would go and everything–beforehand. I think it’s important to know all that before you’re going to do it. We also discussed each one of the scenes with everybody involved, and we had a crew that was mostly female, so that really created a safe environment. Of course, the guys on the show were all great too! But the toughest one was the scene at the bridge [where a group of men harass Sara]; it was always the hardest one. Laura at first thought she was going to feel safe about it, because she had done it before, but the scene was not working, because the actors in the scene were too nervous about what they were doing. So I talked with Laura and I talked with them and said, “Guys, if you hold back, this is not going to work.” I asked them, “Are we all good to go?” and they said yes, and they did it, and when we finished the second take, we all started crying–me, the Steadi man, the guys, Laura–it was so intense.
How did you approach developing the relationship between Sara and the killer in the feature version?
I don’t want to explain too much, because if I do that, it’s like it’s done, and there’s just no room for anyone else’s take on it. I think it’s always more interesting for people to bring what they want into the film. For me, it’s like, choose your own killer; I know what it was for me, I know what it was for Laura and I know what it was for Richard Holmes. He had a whole background for that character, and we worked from that background, but I don’t want to explain their relationship, because that would just explain the whole movie.
I did notice an interesting change from the short to the feature: At the end of the short, the killer returns Sara’s belongings to her, but in the feature, he leaves her one of the other girls’ towels, like he’s giving her a trophy or a totem of his crime, and perhaps implicating her in it.
Yes, and when you make a feature based on a short film, you get to do again what you didn’t do right. For example, in the short, how does she know it’s her bag [laughs]?
Is any of the story based on personal experience, or the experiences of anyone you’ve known?
Yeah, it’s inspired by what I’ve seen in the relationships around me, when I was a teenager and after that. It’s not based on my family, I have to say! Also, I did a lot of research on victims of bullying; the husband of my DP specializes in cases of bullying in schools. And I did talk with a lot of people in the village who had experienced bullying, and how they felt about it and how they felt about not being able to speak about it.
Were you influenced at all by CARRIE or other horror movies dealing with the same subject matter?
I tried to avoid it, but of course, if you’re a horror lover, you’re always influenced by CARRIE [laughs]!
Since PIGGY has been playing around the festival circuit and receiving a lot of attention, have victims of bullying reached out to you to share their experiences?
Yes, a lot, from around the world, from the short and then the feature. I get messages almost every week–from the Philippines, from Africa, South America, the United States, and even from the village where I shot the short, people came to me and said, “I’ve been through this before.” That’s the most moving part of the whole experience.
Can you talk about the decision to shoot in 1:33.1?
At the beginning of the short, we wanted it to be more oppressive, more claustrophobic. And also, for the older members of the audience, it will bring back memories of their childhood summers. It’s also the aspect ratio that forces you to compose the image according to the body. The human body is always at the center when you shoot in 4:3. But when I was doing the feature, I had some doubts, because I didn’t want it to feel like a pose or something like that. But when even Zack Snyder shoots in 4:3, it’s no longer a pose, it’s something else, it’s becoming normal. And one of the things that brought another layer of meaning is that for kids, it reminds them of Instagram!
There’s great chemistry, albeit often hostile, between Galán and the actors playing Sara’s family, so how did you find the right actors for those roles?
I always wanted Carmen Machi as the mother, because she’s such a great actress. When I was writing the film, for me she embodied the tone of the movie, because she has truth to her, she has drama but also a lot of comedy, and she can do that seamlessly. For me, it always had to be Carmen, and she knew Laura from before, because Laura used to work as her assistant in theater, so they had that relationship going, and that worked so much for the film. And then the rest of the family was found through the casting agents, and there was no question it was going to be them, from the little guy on up.
You mentioned the comedy, and there is a streak of black humor running through PIGGY, so how did you modulate that so the movie wasn’t making fun of Sara herself?
The movie is told from her perspective, and some situations can be so absurd and comedic, because we know what she knows, so there’s always going to be some humor in that. For me, comedy is so important, because I don’t believe there’s a truthful human experience unless there’s comedy involved.
Are there any past Spanish horror filmmakers who have inspired you?
Of course. I think everybody from my generation owes a lot to Álex de la Iglesia, because he’s the one who proved that it could be done in Spain. And also Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza; all of them are idols.
PIGGY also reminded me of Narciso Ibañez Serrador’s WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?, in that some of the most horrific and grueling scenes are set not at night but during the day, under harsh sunlight.
Absolutely. That movie was one of my main references.
What do you have coming up?
I’m currently in preproduction on my next feature, which is called THE HERMITAGE, and it’s going to be a horror story as well. I really can’t say anything more about it, though.