Piercing is a title that suggests all manner of stabbings and such, as opposed to an actual piercing. But this, the sophomore feature from The Eyes Of My Mother director Nicholas Pesce, features the self-piercing of a female nipple in excruciating close-up. You don’t need to have a pierced nipple to feel the pain of it, but it certainly doesn’t help matters.
Based on a novel by Ryû Murakami, the man responsible for the life-ruining Audition, the flick has just three principle characters; a guy and the two ladies who interact with him. Christopher Abbott (It Comes At Night) is Reed, a family man with an undisclosed but clearly present longing to murder evident from the introductory sequence, which sees his creepoid dad hovering over the crib containing his baby daughter, ice pick in hand.
In order to quell his burgeoning blood-lust, Reed decides to hire and kill a prostitute, as you do. Unfortunately, the woman he choose is Mia Wasikowska’s unhinged call-girl, who has more than a few secrets of her own. At first, she’s coy, even clingy, but once Reed appears uncomfortable rather than aroused, her suspicions are raised. Then things get really weird.
Piercing is proudly old school, in the tradition of the great psycho-sexual thrillers, and it doesn’t play around, clocking in at just 81 minutes total. The cast, comprising Abbott, Wasikowska, and Laia Costa (who broke out in the shot-in-one-take German thriller Victoria) is uniformly excellent. Costa has the toughest job, sitting at home on the phone, but she’s a skilled performer.
Rather than being a dumb, unassuming wife, her wily Mona is revealed to be in on the scheme, nonchalantly offering suggestions when Reed starts to lose his grip on the situation. Abbott plays the wannabe murderer with a kind of pathetic resolve. A hilarious sequence even finds him psyching himself up to commit the act, practicing what he’s going to say, etc.
Split-screen is used to tremendous effect as he prepares for the hooker’s arrival, while she gets ready to leave her apartment, completely unaware of what she’s walking into. Of course, it turns out it’s Reed who’s underestimating how badly the situation is going to turn, his ignorance revealed in one horrifying moment as he walks in on her repeatedly stabbing herself in the leg.
The question of whether Reed has met his match is left unanswered, but it becomes clear, over the course of the flick, that he clearly isn’t the one in control as the unnamed prostitute drugs him, uses him as her plaything, dotes on him, demands his affection — all things that could be part of role-play but may just be elements of her own psychosis.
Wasikowska, using her own accent for once (last time I can remember her doing so was in Tracks, which is hugely underrated), is incredible here. She’s loopy and likeable, enigmatic and readable, in complete control and sadly lost. Her character could’ve been little more than a sexy cypher, but in Wasikowska’s skilled hands, she’s a woman writing her own story.
The sound design in Piercing is impeccable, particularly in the moments when Reed is mimicking the murder as part of his practice session. Great care is given to presenting this weird world as familiar enough to feel safe and oddly off-kilter so it never quite resembles our own. It’s neither future nor past, but the setting is purely backdrop, not nearly as important as the central dilemma.
Overall, Piercing is visually arresting, deviously intoxicating, and completely messed up. Its ending (changed from the book) is glibly funny, and perfectly in keeping with the madness that’s come before. A cult hit in the making and a brilliantly bizarre follow-up to The Eyes Of My Mother. Pesce is one to watch for sure.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Nicolas Pesce
Writer(s): Ryû Murakami, Nicolas Pesce
Stars: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa
Release date: December 7, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Borderline Films
Length: 81 minutes