Zack (Lucas Koch) is thirteen years old. He's not a happy chap. He's picked on at school, where the other kids have given him the nickname Pig Pen. His head teacher is concerned that he's maybe a victim of neglect and is busy trying to find evidence to substantiate this. At home, Zack cares for his druggie mother (Nicolette le Faye) while fretting for her safety at the hands of her abusive drug-dealing boyfriend Wayne (Vito Trigo). No wonder the lad is prone to sniffing glue on occasion.

But that's not all. Zack is abused by Wayne too. In the meantime, he fishes around his mother's disgusting kitchen searching for scraps of leftover food to eat, or rescues discarded triangles of pizza from bins in the street, in a bid to get fed. Aside from the skateboard that he's recently stolen, which he uses to traverse the barren city streets day and night, Zack has precious little in life.

For a while, we follow Zack's miserable existence in vignette style, as he wanders aimlessly into one bad episode after another: getting picked up by a kiddie fiddler; accidentally finding himself in the middle of a bloody gang shooting; witnessing an old guy getting near enough kicked to death, and so on.

But there is worse to come at home. And one evening things do, indeed, come to a head - with life-changing consequences...

Baltimore-based production company Dire Wit Films aren't exactly known for their subtlety, or for taking themselves too seriously. Just look at previous outings of theirs such as MUTANTIS, PLEASURES OF THE DAMNED and ISLE OF THE DAMNED as prime examples of their puerile sense of humour of old. But 2013's 7TH DAY exhibited a much darker tone for the company, its tales of madness, murder and necrophilia taking Dire Wit into fresh territory with surprising conviction. PIG PEN is darker still, even lacking the touches of black humour that alleviated the cavalcade of gore offered by 7TH DAY.

Jason Koch directs, further honing his skill for more "serious" fare which began to develop on the aforementioned 7TH DAY.

Here, in an unkempt and largely empty world which brings to mind the one created by Alex Cox in REPO MAN, there is no future from the offset: the outlook is grim and the tone is unremittingly bleak as a result. Characters are decidedly unglamorous and performances are boldly carefree when it comes to portraying despicable and/or morally lost individuals. Koch, the director's son, is an enigmatic lead; we feel for him, and he's adept at eliciting such emotions despite having very few lines of dialogue. His vacant stare is that of both victim and ticking timebomb: we don't know whether to sympathise for him or fear what he's capable of doing.

Paul Joyce's electronic score is a major asset too, at times - when combined with the poverty row locations and menagerie of trashy down-and-out characters - bringing to mind a more sombre variation on STREET TRASH.

The non-linear structure of the story, flitting off into flashbacks every now and again without warning, keeps things engaging and distracts somewhat from the occasional misplaced dreary pop tune on the soundtrack.

PIG PEN is a grim, joyless descent into Hell which benefits from beguiling performances and a grim tone which lends itself well to a film which is often violent but never excessively gory.

Dire Wit's region -free DVD proffers PIG PEN to us in its all its uncensored glory (83 minutes and 4 seconds). It's presented in 16x9 widescreen and the 2.35:1 compositions appear to be correctly framed throughout. Although there's often a slightly faded, washed-out look to proceedings, the film is also generally sharp and extremely clean in terms of visual elan. Colours are a tad muted, and it's hard to tell whether this was a stylistic choice during post-production. Certainly there's a good amount of colour correction gone on, and that's perhaps why the film looks slightly tainted for the most part.

English 2.0 audio is adequate without giving reason to remark upon it.

The disc opens to a static main menu page. There is no scene selection menu to speak of, but the film does contain 7 chapter stops.

If you want extras I'm afraid you're going to have to make do with a trio of trailers for films available from the Dire Wit roster. The first is for PIG PEN itself and is an appropriately downbeat 2-minute window into the main feature's sombre finish. This is complement by 2-minute trailers for 7TH DAY, and the more light-hearted DRIVEN TO SUCCEED.

PIG PEN is a lo-fi effort, in some ways reminiscent of early Larry Clark works such as KIDS. It's not an easy ride but for those who don't mind their entertainment being a little on the downbeat side of the pendulum, it's well worth a punt.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Dire Wit