Piercing: Stylish & Twisted
Writer/director Nicolas Pesce follows up his hauntingly hypnotic debut, The Eyes of My Mother, with something even more sadistic. Amidst its sleek stylization, Piercing trades in the penetrating psychological horror for something more perverse and distinctly offbeat. Not without its intriguing qualities and moments, Piercing just doesn’t land with the same effect as Pesce’s previous offering.
Reed (Christopher Abbott) is going on a business trip. He kisses his wife and infant son goodbye and seemingly heads away on business, with a plan to check into a hotel, call an escort service, and kill an unsuspecting prostitute. However, Reed gets more than he bargained for with Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), the alluring call girl who arrives at his room with plans of her own.
The first thing that will catch your eye with Piercing is its great production design and 70s-inspired aesthetic. The colors are crisp and pop, and there’s a quality to the film’s artifice that suggests that all the events take place in this dreamy, slightly off alternate reality. By design, it pushes the viewer to question what’s real or metaphorical. In that sense, there’s a certain Lynchian characteristic present in the design of the visuals — like the gloss to the painted walls and how the light glints and reflects of it — and the narrative — think, to a lesser degree, the mind fuckery present in Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive.
With this in mind, there’s also parallels to Mary Harron’s American Psycho, in that the film’s proceedings may not take flight in the physical world, but the mental. There are moments in Piercing where Pesce, like Harron, plays with the sense of the real and tangible world, like a phone call between Reed (Christopher Abbott) and his wife Mona (Laia Costa), wherein she encourages him to live out his murderous fantasies; however, none of Pesce’s reality play is nearly as cerebrally exciting, hilarious or effective as what Harron unleashes.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Ryū Murakami, whose other major work Audition was adapted by the Takashi Miike. Perhaps it’s because Murakami’s novels are the bridge connecting Pesce to Miike, but there’s an unmistakable Miike-esque quality to the film’s deranged, hyper-violent leanings, which gradually increase as the film progresses. While the violence here is nowhere near the kind of ruthless, nauseating quality of Audition or Ichi the Killer, it’s still fairly brutal and serve as an apt primer; this is not for the squeamish.
To add to the list of influences, Pesce was clearly influenced by Giallo films, and Piercing plays like love letter to 70s-era Giallo offerings. Though Piercing is not an out and out Giallo in the strictest sense, it does share some of the same sentiments. This is echoed and reinforced through the film’s soundtrack, a compilation of instrumentations from famous Giallos, like Deep Red, Tenebre and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. The film’s backing tracks are all pleasant on the ears but don’t feel entirely at home here.
At only 81 minutes, the film could’ve benefited from some more fleshing out. Reed’s character and motives are set up and established (though not in the strongest sense), but Jackie’s background is left out entirely. Without any explanation, the audience never knows why she feels and acts the way she does. While it’s sometimes entertaining to see the cat and mouse game unfold, without any insight into the ‘why’ the film’s effect is somewhat ball gagged. Both actors go all into the role though, and Abbott and Wasikowska share some nice chemistry, both delivering some of the best work of their careers here.
If you can buy into the outlandish scenario, it can lead to some twisted fun, but it never lands with much power or precision. Its ending, in particular, is a letdown. It does, however, feel warranted, given the film is about frustration, and the abrupt, punchline-like ending denies any narrative satisfaction but brings everything full circle. Its execution is the highlight, and there are some sequences of pure genius, like Reed practicing for the murder with the sound effects of murder overlaid, but overall it barely breaks the skin.
Recommendation: If you have an affinity for the warped offerings of cinema, this may be your new favorite thing; however, to any other cinemagoer, it’s not likely to fill the cup, but is worth a rental or a stream (whenever available).
Rating: 2.5 pierced nipples outta 5.
What did you think? Did the film pierce your heart? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!