Pig Hag, written by Colby Holt and co-directed Holt and Samuel Probst, is not an easy movie to watch, much less write about. In fact, I’m certain that I’m the wrong person to write about it. It speaks to a very female set of experiences, while also drilling down into a very specific type of female experience. And it does so by casting a harsh, unflinching light on its subject and how she is treated and perceived by the world around her. The problem is, at the 2019 South By Southwest festival, I’m the only one who saw it. So this review is less my statement on the messaging of the film, and more my way of saying: You should make the effort to go see Pig Hag.
Pig Hag centers on Jodie (Anna T. Schlegel), a nurse living in Los Angeles who is, quite frankly, miserable. She struggles with her body image, struggles with depression, struggles with being a lonely, non-beautiful person in a city of beautiful people. She spends her days working and tethered to her phone, constantly texting the close circle of gay men that serve as her friends and nuclear family, while also messaging with the failed and increasingly awful relationship options that she finds on dating apps. One in particular cruelly lambasts her for failing to show up on a date, antagonizing her with vicious insults (including the title of the film) day after day despite her repeated pleas for him to stop. But at the same time, she doesn’t block him — she tragically laments that “I’m almost out of blocks” and that’s a harsh truth in and of itself, but one can’t help but feel that she keeps at it simply because it provides her with some semblance of human contact.
Things change when she goes to a Guns N’ Roses concert and meets Dustin, an equally lonely man. They have a weird, honest, deeply moving evening together, alternating between drinking, sex, and conversation. And the next morning, Dustin ghosts her. From there, Jodie begins a brutal emotional downward spiral, drowning in misery and sorrow until the audience wonders if she’ll ever be able to come up for air.
It’s an amazing, troubling, fearless performance from Schlegel that makes the movie. She never flinches as the camera follows her almost painfully closely through every movement of her day, from the banal to the embarrassing to the intimate. Holt and Probst do their very best to make you feel what she feels, to make you as uncomfortable as possible in a way that is both empathetic and non-judgmental. The film never shies away from the harshness of what a woman like Jodie - and all women, I suspect - go through as they navigate an often hostile social life and world in general. But it also doesn’t wallow in her misery, giving the film bright touches here and there, brushes of humor and kindness that keep it human and prevent it from turning into another misery porn.
Pig Hag is a difficult, but deserving film to watch. It’s a deeply moving and emotional experience, a film whose unflinching intimacy will make you both squirm and smile. It’s bolstered by some terrific performances, but Schlegel — who is in every single frame of the picture — gives the film its strength and vulnerability and makes it so painfully human. And while it doesn’t provide any concrete answers to how to change the unrelenting shit that Jodie has to go through, it does provide a clear lens that everyone can see it through, and perhaps gain a greater understanding of the lives of those around us.
‘Pig Hag’ screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
Header Image Source: Nieghborhood Pictures