REVIEW: Pigskin [2016]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 14 minutes | Release Date: 2016 (USA)
Studio: The Florida State University
Director(s): Jake Hammond
Writer(s): Jake Hammond & Nicola Newton

“Go Magpies!”

Their publicists would be remiss not to mention that the same school Pigskin director Jake Hammond and co-writer Nicola Newton attend is that which graduated It Follows creator David Robert Mitchell. I personally couldn’t stop thinking about the latter while watching thanks to the horror underpinnings of a creepily deformed figure trailing high school cheerleader Laurie (Isadora Leiva) around. Mix that sense of dread with a poppy synth soundtrack a la Drive and you can get a feeling for what Hammond and Newton deliver. The vision is impeccable, its homage to school-set nightmares of the 80s worn on its sleeve. At first blush it may not seem like Pigskin has more than surface sheen going for it, but on further contemplation it proves it has the goods.

The film serves as a metaphor for body image insecurities all teens have growing up under the microscope of popularity and sex. Laurie deals with this struggle more than most, her desire to look the part driving her into a bulimic lifestyle threatening psychological harm as much as physical. She has scratches all over her belly when we meet her under the bleachers expelling whatever might have snuck into her stomach during the afternoon. It’s as though she’s been clawing at the non-existent body fat, willing it to disappear before buckling it down with an Ace-bandage. The transition from manic self-hate to cheery excitement for practice flips like a switch. Laurie has obviously been living like this for longer than anyone should.

You could say it’s paid off because football star Glenn Brody (Pablo Gonzalez) has taken an interest. The double-edge sword, however, is that Laurie could never muster the courage to wonder if he likes her for her or the impossible body she strived to create through self-torture. Her fears increase because a boyfriend is no longer mere fantasy. Friends are taking notice (Isabella Groff‘s Trish) and eventually the promise of sex will rear its head. Will she be able to shed her sweater and show Glenn the scars of mutilation? Will the internal pain of her false sense of self force her to dig even deeper? Laurie is completely lost to this faceless manifestation of her “ugliness” refusing to let her see anything else.

Hammond and Newton progress things to a genre-relevant end as nightmare and reality merge until one can no longer be separated from the other. They receive effective, throwback performances from all involved before Leiva is allowed to scream in desperation devoid of the colorfully hyper-stylized façade of the rest. She isn’t fighting survival as much as relief, the spoils of victory ultimately costing her more than the price of admission. So much more that pleasure becomes impossible. What should culminate in the desired outcome for someone healthy only fuels the suffering of someone who can never be satisfied. Her monstrous pursuer better hurry because she’s about to destroy herself before it can even enter the frame. Too often our true enemy lies waiting within.

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