January 28, 2019 Piercing (Movie Review)
Life is a piercing journey, a fetishistic halcyon trip for the bored. With this in mind, enter the lush aesthetic of Piercing, which arrives in theaters, on demand, and digitally as of Friday, February 1, 2019, thanks to Universal Pictures. Fresh from a successful festival run, the film sees 2016’s The Eyes of My Mother Director Nicolas Pesce triumphantly returning to confound audiences with his sophomore feature.
Clearly, newfound fatherhood is not agreeing with Reed (Christopher Abbott: James White 2015, It Comes at Night 2017), who is roaming the night with sharp objects, contemplating self-harm and suffering from insomnia. When he begins to experience auditory and visual hallucinations, it becomes abundantly clear that his upcoming business trip is a much-needed respite from the mundanity of domestic life alongside wife Mona (Laia Costa: Victoria 2015, Only You 2018).
Then blonde pixie Jackie (Mia Wasikowska: Alice in Wonderland 2010, Stoker 2013) makes her grand entrance into Room 2902 at The Prince, further tangling the already precarious web. An apathetic prostitute who keeps a clean home, she welcomes the handsome Reed’s awkward request to practice S&M with her. Unfortunately, she is not entirely aware of the situation at hand, one that has seen him plotting and planning, practicing her murder and its subsequent cleanup right down to the minute. But women like Miss Jackie are quite unpredictable!
Piercing is based off the Ryū Murakami novel of the same name, which was originally published in 1994 in Japan before eventually being translated and re-released to the English-speaking world in 2008. The film clocks in at 82 minutes, and was written and directed by the aforementioned Nicolas Pesce. Potential viewers can loosely place the film into the Horror-Thriller genre, more specifically, with leanings towards a Psychological Thriller (Psychosexual, if you like) that contains some slight gore. Translation: you are meant to cringe!
To cut straight to the point: Piercing is weird. It’s a film set in an amorphous time that seems to harken back to the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, with a heavy use of moody neutrals to set an atmosphere. That atmosphere, in turn, gives birth to a film that is likely to heavily polarize viewers with its bizarre blend that is part 2000’s American Psycho, part 2016’s The Neon Demon, and set in the visual aesthetic of David Lynch. There’s a definite, quirky Bret Easton Ellis vibe to the underlying story, one that is seriously steeped in mood and visual appeal over plot. The end result is a truly intense and disturbing experience that is intentionally provocative, and is apt to nag at its viewers long after the film has reached its ambiguous conclusion.
So, how does Pesce succeed with a film that is so intentionally nebulous? Well, for one, his cast is superb! Abbott is flawless. He moves about the screen in fits that see him casually and elegantly practicing the murder of a prostitute as “The Girl From Ipanema” spins in the background, self-Chloroforming to build up a resistance to the seemingly inevitable. His ability to make the ridiculously sociopathic so mundane and well-choreographed is what gives his character Reed his power: he is the everyman potentially capable of the unthinkable. Potentially being the key. Abbott’s Reed is awkward at times too, which leaves us to wonder if he really has what is required to take a life. Reed could easily be bored with the humdrum of formulaic life, engaging in a twisted fantasy that is brought on from obvious childhood trauma. Who is to say?
His perfect counterpart comes in the form of Wasikowska’s Jackie. Wasikowska is initially bold and confident, though this facade soon unravels and we see the humanity behind the whore. She is tender at times, babbling with nerves, and complimenting Reed on being “calm and dignified” when, in truth, she knows nothing about him. There’s a childlike quality to Jackie that is portrayed in Wasikowska’s eyes, and, at other times, a perfect converse that is rough and hardened, making her able to pierce her own flesh without so much as a wince. The interplay between Abbott and Wasikowska is brilliant and intense, holding the viewer’s interest for the duration of the film despite a truly enigmatic script.
Furthermore, Piercing looks great. There are split-screen moments that allow the audience to experience the film from both Reed and Jackie’s points of view, along with those smoky neutral shades that maintain the darkly haunting mood throughout. Black humor, a bad halcyon trip, mommy issues, and latex fetish gear all round out this truly warped ballet, one that is wonderfully effective at creating a mood and an aesthetic.
It is hard to say exactly what Pesce and Murakami hope viewers will take away from Piercing, but the experience is disturbing and bizarre enough to linger. In short: you will love it or you will hate it, there is absolutely no middle ground. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Piercing 4.5 of 5 stars.