Film festivals are typically a time to look forward, debuting new and exciting motion pictures that will soon (hopefully) wind up in theaters and home entertainment systems near you. That’s certainly the case for most of the films at South By Southwest (SXSW) this year, but there was one notable exception. There was one film that was nearly a decade old, which has screened only one or two times before, and which – we are told – will never, EVER screen again.
That film… is PIG.
If ever there was a film that fell into the “torture porn” genre, it is PIG, a film that willfully forgoes the fundamental concepts of plot and character development, and instead luxuriates in wall-to-wall violence. It is an 86-minute motion picture, shot in just two days, that portrays the rape, torture, disfigurement, degradation, cannibalism, and subjugation of multiple women – and one man – by a raging psychopath. And it plays out – mostly – in one single shot.
I have seen PIG. I sat in the theater this past weekend at SXSW, just to take a gander. I had no idea if PIG would an unsung classic or just some sort of geek show, the sort of thing one must simply see to believe. All I did know was that I’d probably never get to see PIG again, and that I didn’t want to go to my grave wondering what I had missed. Life, I figured, was too short for regrets.
So I wasn’t going to miss this chance to see PIG. I sat down in the theater just moments before midnight, and the film started playing.
It took me about ten minutes before I seriously considered walking out.
It’s not that PIG is violent (it is), it’s not that PIG is depraved (it is), it’s that PIG seems to exist entirely in the service of its own rage. In his introduction and Q&A after the screening, director Adam Mason described PIG as an experimental film, and the shoe fits. PIG is testing the audience for our reactions. It’s practically daring us to sit through the whole thing. It seemingly has no interest in whether or not we like it, and in fact I suspect Mason would probably judge us pretty harshly if we said we loved it. PIG is all the abusive aggression and outlandish violence of the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE reboot, cranked to eleven, without any of pretense that good exists in the world. It’s specifically designed to be unwatchable.
So I watched it. And since you will probably never get to watch PIG for yourself (for reasons I’ll explain in a moment), I wanted to share that experience with you. Describing the events that take place in PIG would only consume a few sentences. Explaining the experience of PIG is a a bit more involved than that.
PIG opens with a young woman running down an isolated highway. A man pulls up in a pickup truck and beats her unconscious. He throws her in the back of the truck and takes her back to the secluded trailer from which she has just escaped. There is another woman there, chained up, and the man, played by Andrew Howard (BATES MOTEL), proceeds to cut the first woman open, pull out her organs, and shove them in the other woman’s face.
This takes a while.
PIG is in absolutely no rush because, frankly, it isn’t really “going” anywhere. There are a few surprises and revelations but the point isn’t to find out where the story is headed. The point is to slow down the torture of a torture porn motion picture so that it takes place in real time. Any surreptitious thrill you might have got from watching the HOSTEL movies is neutralized when you have to watch every second of the despicable cruelty and absolutely nothing else.
That point is made quickly. You’re right, PIG, it’s not easy to watch a truly extended act of genuine violence. But there’s one more point to be made, and the film ain’t subtle about, and it’s that forthright juxtaposition of ideas that’s real reason why you will probably never see PIG, because films that depict similarly horrifying acts have been distributed before and will be distributed again. You can argue that they are in poor taste but poor taste can be marketable, for better or worse. So what’s the real distribution problem with PIG…?
The thing that makes PIG unique from all the other grotesque horror movies is that the vast majority of the disemboweling, the cannibalism (our unnamed monster makes gravy in real time), and horrific sexual abuse – almost all of it against women, by a man who explicitly says he’s trying to break his captives down for subjugation – plays underneath a long recording of talk radio host Tom Leykis, opining that men need to treat women without respect in order to keep them in line.
This real-life Tom Leykis recording accompanies most of the action in PIG, in which the male character feeds a kidnapped woman pieces of her dead friend, covers her in her brother’s brains, urinates on her, and incorporates an accomplice, a pregnant woman who appears to be deeply disturbed, probably as the result of being one of his earlier abuse victims. Before the brain incident they beat that woman’s brother to death with a rock. He also molests the young man with a screwdriver and uses him for target practice. Adam Mason revealed at the Q&A that this one-shot sequence was used with an actual rifle and blanks, not post-production firearm effects, and intimated that the screwdriver incident in particular cost him a friendship.
It seems highly unlikely that Adam Mason will ever be able to acquire the rights to this Tom Leykis recording, especially for a project like PIG. The filmmaker said at the Q&A that he considered recording a fictional version, but came to the conclusion that recreation wouldn’t be nearly as effective. Besides, Mason seems a bit eager to move on from the notoriety of PIG. (He’s long since moved on to other projects, like the found footage thriller HANGMAN, which played at a previous SXSW festival.)
But back to PIG.
PIG continues with the acts of cannibalism, and eventually the monster in the middle emerges from his trailer wearing women’s clothes and hair that looks like it was carved off of another body. He then moves his newest kidnapping victim into a free range cattle pen and rapes and murders her, at which point he cleans himself off, abandons his southern twang in favor of an erudite British accent, and tells the owner of this property to only feed the surviving, pregnant woman enough to keep her alive. He calls his wife and child and says he’ll be home soon, and he gets in a plane and flies away.
Again, PIG is not subtle. PIG is a prolonged indictment of motion picture violence and violent social rhetoric, the sort of dehumanizing ideas that could be written off as a difference of opinion if they didn’t create an environment that emboldens those would wish to partake in monstrous behavior. These aren’t new concepts. They weren’t new when PIG was made. But at least the film has a theme because without one, it would indeed be arguably reprehensible (which, again, is essentially the point).
And yet “shock value” cannot be sustained over the course of an entire feature film, not without taking a break once in a while. PIG is so vile that it’s actually rather numbing. It doesn’t take long, especially without the distraction of plot and character, to become distracted. Sit in a theater watching PIG play out from beginning to end and you’ll find yourself wondering whether it’s worth sticking around because the argument is made very clear in just a few minutes. If you do stay in your seat with nothing but PIG to entertain you, you stop watching the film and you start to wonder about the mindset that not only conceives of PIG but spends the time, money and energy to actually make it.
PIG is a film that could not have been made meditatively. The performances are too heightened. The violence is too extreme. The argument is too impassioned. And since the “characters” in the film are too busy exacting senseless brutality or falling prey to senseless brutality to connect to the audience as anything other than puppets, we turn our mind instead to the person pulling the string. We wonder not what’s going to happen next – surely it won’t be pleasant – and instead wonder what sort of pain a person must have been going through to consider PIG in any way worth making.
Adam Mason described in the introduction and Q&A his frustration as a filmmaker, trying to make quality horror movies, struggling to find distribution, and watching shallow acts of violence succeed financially in the late 2000s instead. PIG is a mockery of those “torture porn” movies. It’s an irate tweet in all capital letters, madly asking “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!” It’s outsized and direct but with its fury comes an emotional honesty, if you look beneath the despicable surface.
It is possible, I suppose, that you may one day have another opportunity to see PIG. Probably not, but life is full of possibilities. So if you decide to partake in this experience I encourage you to consider not just that you are watching an outlandish midnight movie, but that you are also watching a desperate human being scream. The shrieking isn’t the message. The message necessitates the shrieking. And the message is sad, frustrated, desperate, and seemingly genuine.
That’s what I got out of watching PIG.