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Inspired by a shocking true story, “Pig Killer” takes a unique and controversial approach to exploring the depravity of a real-life monster.

Pig Killer

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Film criticism, when done correctly, is meant to be as objective as possible. With that said, every review is ultimately an opinion, and every critic experiences a film filtered through the lens of personal perception and preference.

My job as a critic is not to tell you if I liked a movie. Why should you care? My job is to help you determine if you might enjoy a particular film. That’s an especially important note with this review, in particular, because Pig Killer is an inherently divisive film that will either intrigue or repulse you, perhaps a little of both.

If you do your homework, you’ll find reviews praising the film’s fearless gumption and engrossing perversity, as well as reviews condemning the film for its sleazy and insensitive handling of a tragic true story. Both perspectives are fair and accurate.

Pig Killer, written and directed by Chad Ferrin, tells the horrifying true story of Robert ‘Willy” Pickton, the infamous pig farmer who became Canada’s most prolific and notorious serial killer.

You can listen to the details of his sordid crimes — including raping, murdering, butchering, and possibly eating more than twenty (and perhaps as many as forty-nine) women starting in the early 1990s until his arrest in 2002 — right here.

I’ve watched and enjoyed many biopics about infamous serial killers. Though these films, like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Golden Glove, can be painful and gut-wrenching to watch, often requiring a strong constitution to endure, it’s the kind of horror and human drama that’s impossible to look away from.

I’ll pause here and state the obvious.

If you don’t enjoy watching movies about very disturbed individuals (almost always white males) committing acts of savagery and inhumanity against innocent victims (typically young women), Pig Killer is most certainly not for you.

For those of you who remain unabashedly drawn to the dark side of human nature, let’s ascertain if Pig Killer manages to succeed as a serial killer biopic.

The press release for the film from distributor Breaking Glass Pictures paints a picture of exactly the kind of film you’d expect based on the shocking subject matter, billing Pig Killer as:

“a spine-chilling and thought-provoking true crime drama, … [that] takes audiences on an unflinching journey into the darkest recesses of human depravity, as it graphically depicts Pickton’s felonious farmhouse, a chamber of rape, torture, slaughter, and dismemberment of almost fifty women.”

While there’s truth to that description, it belies the reality of Pig Killer’s strange and polarizing choices.

This is a film that leans into the kind of sleaze that feels gratuitous and embraces a kind of camp that can be wildly fun but starts to feel a bit icky when you remember there are real victims involved.

It’s tonally all over the place, with an odd blend of melodrama and surprisingly dark comedy.

It also has more needle drops than an 80s blockbuster — running the gamut of musical styles from punk to rock to country, with music playing a key storytelling role and used to reflect the turmoil and chaos of Pickton’s mind.

Many of the song choices feel strange and discordant, disconnected from what is happening onscreen. However, I sense that it was very much intentional, meant to create a sense of disorientation and ease the impact of witnessing the onslaught of degradation and degeneracy.

This film is hard to watch, not just because of how grisly the crimes were but because of the depiction of rampant racism, casual misogyny, and aggressive contempt for sex workers — beginning with a convincing but upsetting performance from the B-movie icon Bai Ling portraying a stereotypical Asian sex worker who utters line like “love you long time” and represents the kind of women discarded by society that Pickton targeted.

Now, this is where things get tricky.

On the one hand, you could easily criticize Ferrin for centering the story around Pickton while dehumanizing his victims. On the other hand, it’s quite possible Ferrin is making pointed commentary about the pervasive bigotry that enabled Pickton to terrorize his community for so long.

An in-depth public inquiry into the handling of the Pickton case revealed that police made critical errors in pursuing the Canadian serial killer partly because of “systemic bias” against his victims, sex trade workers from a rough Vancouver neighborhood.

Some will argue, perhaps rightfully so, that portraying sexual violence in graphic detail, even if it’s to convey the horror of the act, is akin to glorifying it.

Many horror fans will not watch rape-revenge films, no matter how celebrated the film, because they believe these films help perpetuate the misogyny that fuels these crimes and further shape our cultural attitudes about them in real life.

Whatever the context or intent, many will argue it’s never acceptable to exploit the very real trauma of women for sensationalized entertainment. That outrage is often amplified when the women in question are among those whose suffering has long since been silenced and ignored, including women of color, poor women, drug addicts, and sex workers.

That’s an important debate I won’t try to arbitrate here.

But where you stand on this issue will likely significantly inform how you perceive a film like Pig Killer.

This is a film that does not hold back in its portrayal of these obscenities.