Following debut The Eyes Of My Mother, writer/director Nicolas Pesce delivers Piercing, a brisk mix of S&M horror and pitch black comedy that’s based on a novel by Japanese author Ryû Murakami, the man behind the source novel of Takashi Miike’s Audition. And if you know anything about Audition, you can guess the territory of some of Piercing’s own plot rug pulls.
We open on a man who appears barely able to suppress an urge to kill his own baby. This is Reed (Christopher Abbott), who makes plans to get away from his wife (Laia Costa) and infant on an apparent business trip, which is in fact a cover for his real plan to address his murderous inclinations: he will check into a hotel, call an escort service, and kill an unsuspecting prostitute.
His plot is meticulously laid out in a little red book and he rehearses both his exchanges of words and physical routine for the intended slaying in a formally lively early set-piece – which plays with viewer expectations for diegetic sound effects – that succinctly establishes the film’s tone. On that aesthetic note, Pesce’s miniature-constructed diorama exteriors and sinister art-installation-like interiors suggest a fusion of Wes Anderson and David Lynch sets.
The sex worker finally arrives, but things immediately don’t go to plan as Jackie (Mia Wasikowska) proves more than a match for Reed when it comes to violent derangement.
While Piercing is an enjoyable psychosexual spar if you can get on its wavelength (there’s material here that absolutely will appal many), it doesn’t necessarily linger like the emotional or physical scars of its scary lead pair, despite Abbott and Wasikowska’s game performances. A lot of that is down to the double-edged sword of Pesce’s stripping down of the source material. This allows for the film’s speedy pacing (it’s barely 75 minutes without its credits), but the omission of interior psychology and contextual information from Murakami’s text means the film lacks a piercing insight into its characters.
Piercing was seen and reviewed at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.