Piercing (2018)

Director: Nicolas Pesce Writer: Ryû Murakami
Starring: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa. USA/Japan. 1h 21m

Piercing, a movie about a man who plans to kill a prostitute in his hotel room, was an instant for my to watch list, but after seeing it get run into the dirt by many reviewers I did start to question myself. A tiny bit of research renewed my passion when I realised that this thriller is based on a book by Ryû Murakami, yep, the twisted individual that wrote the novel Audition who’s film adaption comes highly rated with it’s dark surreal undertones and horrific gore scenes. Top this off with the director of The Eyes of my Mother (2016) I can’t see how this could really be so bad..

A young father, Reed (Abbott) struggles to restrain himself from stabbing his baby daughter with a skewer, the pressure forces him to find a way to get this deadly desire out of his system. He hatches an incredibly details plan to hire a hotel room, rent a hooker and play out his stabbing fantasy, once she’s dead he hopes to return to his happy normal life.Unfortunately the unhinged hooker he encounters, Jackie (Wasikowska) has her own demons to exorcise and the two of them play an destructive game of cat and mouse.

Three main aspects of Piercing really captured me, initially the batshit crazy story is set in a reality which isn’t all that real, it’s dreamlike urban noir is luxurious but don’t take anything you see for granted. Regularly really strange things will happen, a phone call will jolt Reed, but it’s just the concierge asking him to keep it down but then urging him to still kill the girl, at first it seems like a real call but obviously it’s not, there’s another strange call from his beloved wife but the conversation isn’t quite what you’d expect it’s more of an extension of Reeds consciousness calling in. For the first act Reed plays out the murder scenes, with a dramatic pantomime style violently killing an invisible woman but the sound effects complete the scenes and give an eerie feeling to an already unnerving scene. Pesce has a habit of making the audience visualise the blanks, which is oh so very naughty.

Secondly the presentation reminds me of a graphic novel, it has split screens and unique arty framing which looks as if it came from the pages of Young Magazine, the colours are vivid some of the scenes seem drawn out, detailed in strange ways but it’s exactly like a comic with the addition of plates to allow for more dialogue. The characters don’t talk much, but when they do, they don’t say much, like when she rambles on about bicycling equipment or instant soup mix. Nothing is certain or too real in this completely realistic-looking world that has no certain time or place, it seems to be set in a city, you assume it’s America for the sake of the accents and the yellow cabs but the city itself is primarily just blocks accentuated in the closing credits.

Thirdly I adore the scenes of gore, violence and surreal personifications of the two lonely protagonists’ psychological hang-ups through their semi-ritualized, sadomasochistic courtship, creatures crawling through the sewers, past victims coming back to haunt the living. Not only is there top and bottom romping, darkly comic as it is, once the addition of a few drugs are in the mix becomes a fetish nightmare.

If I was a person who needed a clear narrative to enjoy a film this would be highly annoying as it changes the rules constantly. But having two highly praised actors who enjoy difficult characters play out in this fringe movie, without a clear set of goals this was always going to be difficult to really grasp but the more you try the less you enjoy, the fun, and yes there is some fun to ba had is just to watch them play their roles and try act calm and collective. This outrageous screwed-up sexual/romantic relationship that we are forced to watch in a voyerostic manner is enjoyable despite that we can hardly ever fully understand it.

Rating: 7/10

R: The Audition (1999), The Phantom Thread (2017), Night Porter (1974) Duke of Burgundy (2014)

5s: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska

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