Written and directed by Kieron Hawkes his debut feature ‘Piggy’ is a disappointing yet worth watching gritty exploration of violence in the inner-city life of modern day London. The strength of the two central performances by Paul Anderson in the title role and Martin Compston as Joe both seeking revenge for the murder of Joe’s older brother John played by Neil Maskell (last year’s ‘Kill List’) along with the prolonged scenes of skilfully executed ultra-realistic violence and the pathos Hawkes injects to the material all makes for entertaining viewing. It is just that the film does not fulfil the promise it had making this just another average British revenge thriller and ultimately a letdown.
Joe (Compston) is a shy lonely soul working as an office runner in the hustle and bustle of today’s London struggling to cope with his fears of society. When his older brother John (Maskell) suddenly visits him Joe is brought out of his shell as the close siblings go on nights out together. During one of these nights in a pub an altercation breaks out between them and a group of buttoned up shirt geezer types. Later, while walking home alone one night John is stabbed to death by the gang of thugs. After the funeral and previously unknown to Joe, John’s old school friend the crazed loner Piggy (Anderson) turns up at Joe’s door to persuade him that the both of them should take revenge on John’s killers bringing Joe out of himself again albeit a darker self.
This is essentially just a standard tale of retribution with contradicting narrative issues to boot all narrated by Martin Compston’s character’s inner-monologue. I found it bewildering that Joe would still stick with Piggy and his plan for revenge even though it is abundantly apparent to him that Piggy is as the Yanks would say a couple of cans short of a six-pack. Furthermore, in a sub-plot Joe becomes close with John’s ex-girlfriend the normal living and good-hearted Claire (Louise Dylan) yet he is still drawn to Piggy’s dark side of life lessons even though Joe was at his happiest and most outgoing in the company of his beloved brother and his ex.
The grisly revenge aspects are all handled effectively well though with the director cutting away at the right moments during the acts of ferocious vengeance committed by the insane avenger Piggy. Except for an explicit throat slitting, Kieron Hawkes substitutes the lack of actual on-screen blood and gore by employing the enhancement of diegetic sounds to maximize the effect of the brutality leaving it more to the imagination. It is very similar to Tobe Hooper’s skilled handling of the violent sequences in ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) making us think we are seeing the extremity of the gruesomeness more than we actually are. A prime example of this is one scene set in the warehouse where Piggy and Joe take the scumbag murderers and Piggy repeatedly stamps on the head of one man which seems like the longest of times until his head is nothing but mushed melon; the horrible squelching sounds are just as stomach churning as if it was graphically depicted. Hardened genre fans should not be put off by the absence of claret here for the most part.
However, I found it strange that Hawkes would go out of his way to show the nasty slitting of a throat in full detail but for other scenes like when Piggy is stamping on a man’s skull it is all done with cut away editing. This is a muddling filmmaking decision.
James Friend captures all this with some nice cinematography. It is a well-shot movie and Hawkes uses the locations of London to full effect to paint a grimy picture of a city that is a harsh unforgiving environment rife with social problems. With also an atmospherically sorrowful musical score by Bill Ryder-Jones of the British band The Coral, heightening the moody tone and the emotional punch ‘Piggy’ is overall a technically attractive film. The emotive leanings are on display from Compston’s performance as he watches Piggy deal out the punishment and his reactions to coming to terms with the dark that lies within him. The two leads carry the proceedings very well. Paul Anderson is brimming with energy in a terrifying turn with a hauntingly forceful presence as he goads on the grieving and torn Compston who draws our empathy.
The movie just does not live up to what it should have been though failing to do anything substantially different breaking no new ground at all. If the director had of set out to make a solidly dark straightforward revenge film then there would be no call for this criticism but he teases us with something deeper. There are psychological elements presented here as half-baked concepts in a intriguing set-up of a potentially interesting study of isolation, violence and grief. Kieron Hawkes fails to follow this through not delivering what he promised making an uneven mess of things right through to the ambiguous ending. This is something I can commend Hawkes on doing as he purposely nods to a Fight Clubesque twist throughout that is surely coming at the end but does something the complete opposite with a double twist one of which is left up to interpretation.
‘Piggy’ is not terrible by any means but it is just not too good either. Kieron Hawkes is an immense talent showing a great deal of promise giving us a taste what he is capable of in the future. His technicality is sound and he pulls off some impressive visual treats here but he needs to hone his writing skills, as this is what has let him down. Still, it is his directorial debut and I can let him off for that. With much better material, I am sure Hawkes can make a more substantial effort next time around. I look forward to seeing this filmmaker grow with more innovative work.
** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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