The poignant opening scene of Carlota Pereda’s provocative horror drama establishes that the Spanish director hasn’t just expanded but elaborated the troublesome themes her eponymous 2018 short film addresses in merely 14 minutes. Sociable sadism, passive power and confusing capability of revenge to be both cathartic and contaminating are at the hurting heart of this unusual teenie slasher. Its short predecessor is basically comprised of two scenes. The first sees young Sara (an excellent Laura Galán who reprises her role in the feature length version) at the public pool where she is brutally bullied and attacked by a trio of local girls.
They ridicule her excess weight, oinking and calling her „piggy“. Sara’s former friend Claudia leads as they take Sara’s clothes, forcing her to a humiliating walk home in her bikini. However, on the road Sara encounters revenge in the shape of a mysterious stranger who witnessed her mistreatment earlier and now stops to silently return her clothes. When a blood-splattered Claudia starts screaming for help in the back of his van, Sara realizes all she has to do to be rid of her tormentors is – nothing. It’s a viciously clever spin on that useless „advice“ regularly given to bullied kids: „Just ignore them!“
While the short film ends with Sara’s resolution, the feature aims for more ambivalence. The title’s meaning expands from the regular cruelty linked to the insult it to Claudia and the other girls who are later seen dangling from hooks like pigs ready to be slaughtered. But the most interesting addition is the butcher’s shop owned by Sara’s family where she has to work. The titular epitaph the kids use for Sara as if she had never had a name aligns her body with the meat in the shop display: there to be locked at, to be judged, to be (ab)used.
When the above-mentioned opening scene shows Sara handling dead parts of pigs, it could simply be underlining that connection. It could, however, also be read as a critique of the protagonist’s own lack of compassion for the animals chopped up and consumed. It might be that part of her personality that doesn’t flinch when handling dead bodies that appeals to the serial killer stranger. He turns into a kind of menacing dream lover – an embodiment of a psychopathic part of herself she can reject or embrace. He terrorizes his victims who didn’t do anything to him, just as they terrorized Sara.
This leaves only one way for the searing story to end and for the violence to come full circle. Pereda’s direction, aided by Galán’s magnificent lead performance, brings up a number of crucial ethical questions: How much sympathy do we owe our worst enemies? Can an act of cruelty justify inhuman punishment? But she all but misses some more uncomfortable ones. How much of our moral integrity depends on social impracticability? Is our capability of compassion only attraction to arbitrary criteria of outer aesthetics and physical likeness? And what if the monster we see as an unreconcilable opposite is our own reflection?
- OT: Cerdita
- Director: Carlota Pereda
- Screenplay: Carlota Pereda
- Country: Spain, France
- Year: 2022
- Running Time: 90 min.
- Cast: Claudia Salas, Laura Galán, Carmen Machi, Pilar Castro, Camille Aguilar, José Pastor, Teresita Evuy, Mabel del Pozo, Irene Ferreiro, Richard Holmes, Stéphanie Magnin Vella, Fernando Delgado-Hierro, Chema del Barco, Julián Valcárcel-Carbonell, Amets Otxoa, Lía Lois
- Release date: 24.01.2022 (Sundance) | 27.10.2022 (GER)
- Image © Alamode Film/ Backup Films