Long Pigs (Canada, 2007)
Long Pigs is a film designed to raise questions about what we eat, but the main question that ran through my mind as I watched is was whether a film has to be original to be worthwhile. The shadow of the 1992 Belgian film, Man Bites Dog lies heavily over Long Pigs, as does, to a lesser extent, the 2006 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. All three films are blackly comic mock documentaries, with film crews following serial killers as they go about their ghoulish work (although Behind the Mask turns into something quite different). Long Pigs stands apart in two respects, however: it is by far the goriest of the three films, and the subject of the documentary, Anthony McAllister, is a cannibal.
The crew — directors Nathan Hynes and Chris Power, playing themselves — follow McAllister around Toronto as he selects victims according to criteria as diverse as how marbled their flesh will be to how rude they’ve been to his friends. McAllister dispatches his victims relatively swiftly and dispassionately and then, quite literally, butchers them. The scenes of human bodies being turned into meat are long and unflinching, with a particularly detailed example around the midway point that follows the entire process in a single time-lapse sequence. These scenes are not for the weak of stomach.
McAllister himself proves superficially affable, more than happy to discuss techniques, culinary tips and his personal philosophy. Everything horrible thing he does is handled with such good humour and efficiency that it almost comes to seem natural, even when he is providing tips on the best ways to dispose of human bones. Counterpoints to McAllister’s view of himself are provided by to-camera interviews with a forensic psychologist, a police officer who has investigated missing persons cases related to McAllister and a radio talk show host whose involvement comes to make more sense later in the film.
The more we learn about McAllister, the more we see how much of his amiability is a carefully constructed mask. While the psychologist’s comments about the inability of psychopaths to make real human connections initially seems undermined by McAllister’s behaviour towards his best friend and the film-makers, in scenes of almost comic irony, over time everything she tells us is proved correct. This all builds to an ending that is predictable, but still handled with enough creativity and wit as not be be an anticlimax.
One aspect that seems directly lifted from Man Bites Dog is the film crew’s growing complicity in McAllister’s crimes. They help reassure a soon-to-be victim, assist more directly in another murder and even, in an emotionally harrowing scene, use McAllister as a crew member when interviewing the grieving father of one of his victims. Any anger this instils is only tempered by the fact that we have seen it all before.
As well as contempt for the venality of the media, the other message that permeates Long Pigs is how little we think about where out meat comes from. McAllister expounds about how eating people isn’t different from eating any other animal — an argument I sometimes used myself back in my days as a self-righteous vegetarian, albeit for different reasons. He also displays an interest in the diets and lifestyles of his victims that echoes the concerns of farmers and butchers. This is especially evident when a flat tyre causes the crew to make an unscheduled detour to a pig farm, looking for help, and McAllister and the pig farmer bond immediately over their shared passion for meat.
Visually, Long Pigs is a grimy, grubby film, shot on hand-held cameras in natural lighting, with sets that feel depressing enough to be real. The cheapness of the shoot is offset by the realism of its special effects. There are only a few scenes of McAllister killing or butchering his victims, but they are shockingly realistic; the documentary style of the cinematography only makes them more convincing.
While Long Pigs may not offer much that you haven’t seen before, it is a funny, macabre and often thoughtful film that is uncomfortably entertaining throughout. Being original isn’t as important as providing a new angle on the ideas you use, and Long Pigs is deft enough in this respect to avoid coming across as a mere knock-off. Just be warned that this is a gory, bloody film and if you haven’t come to terms with where meat comes from, you may have difficulty enjoying a steak for a while.