09th Jul2018

EIFF 2018: ‘Piercing’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa, Marin Ireland, Maria Dizzia, Wendell Pierce | Written and Directed by Nicolas Pesce


Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska star in Piercing, a deliciously dark psycho-sexual horror;  the second feature from director Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of my Mother). Adapted from a novel by Ryû Murakami (who wrote the source material for Takashi Miike’s Audition), the film is shot through with a jet-black sense of humour and a sensibility that recalls Steven Shainberg’s Secretary in more ways than one.

Abbott (It Comes At Night) stars as Reed, a new dad who’s first glimpsed psyching himself up to stab his infant daughter with an ice-pick, unbeknownst to his young wife, Mona, played by Laia Costa (Victoria). When a demonic voice from the baby informs him that he knows what he has to do, Reed tells his wife he’s off on a business trip and heads to a hotel, intending to murder a prostitute in order to exorcise his murderous impulses.

When he arrives at the hotel, Reed seems to have everything planned and meticulously rehearses every movement, working from a notebook where he’s written down every stage of his macabre plan. However, he hasn’t accounted for his intended victim, Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), who has problems of her own and soon turns the tables in unexpected ways.

Abbott is well suited to the part of Reed, convincing both as a chilling potential murderer and a dreamy, almost child-like fantasist who’s somehow gotten in over his head. Wasikowska is equally good as Jackie, veering between vulnerable, dangerous and maybe a little bit crazy, with her own complex motivations left tantalisingly unknown.

To that end, the script keeps you guessing throughout, as each character wrestles for pole position (sometimes literally), until you start to question what’s really going on. Does Jackie actually want to die? Does Reed? Is this all in Reed’s head? It would be churlish to reveal any more, but suffice it to say that there’s a bizarre, yet touching sweetness in the underlying story of two damaged people finding each other and the film comes with a belter of a punchline.

Pesce’s direction is a joy in and of itself, from his use of miniatures and lush, Lynchian interiors to his impressive sound design work. This is particularly evident in Reed’s rehearsal sequence, which comes complete with imaginary stabbing and sawing noises, as well as some top notch mime work from Abbott, who even bends his knees and braces his body when he’s pretending to carry the corpse.

Aesthetically, Piercing is a riot of pleasure, from the gorgeous opening and closing credits to the fabulous, jangly score and the use of appropriately giallo-esque music on the soundtrack – one track in particular is directly lifted from 1972’s The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. On top of that, Pesce indulges in some enjoyable split-screen work in the early sections, adding to the general sleazy, 1970s vibe.

By turns disturbing, touching and darkly funny, Piercing is something of a treat for genre fans, thanks to Pesce’s confident, stylish direction and pitch-perfect performances from its two leads. It also leaves you excited to see what Pesce will do next.

**** 4/5


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