Twisted and violent, disturbing and bloody, Nicolas Pesce’s Piercing manages to shock but doesn’t quite awe. On paper, Piercing, based on Ryû Murakami’s 90s novel of the same name, is a slick psychological maze. In practice, it’s a messy knot of unjustified violence, shuddering with convoluted drives, sexual fetish and unresolved impulses.
Over the course of one night, the film charts Reed (Christopher Abbott), a seemingly straight-laced husband who checks himself into a hotel to fulfil his murderous desires. He melodramatically rehearses the murder in a way that flirts within the realm of pantomimic comedy as he tests the appropriate quantity of chloroform on himself. Eventually, he must bring in his prey. That’s where Jackie (Mia Wasikowska) comes in. She’s a prostitute and speaks English (Reed wants to understand her pleas during the event), and meets the killer’s short list of credentials for the victim. Yet, within a minute of their meeting, everything starts to unfurl. Reed has met his psychopathic match and they descend into the dark night ahead filled with slashed skin and their own beaten bodies.
Many things remain fuzzy in light of the crisp pools of blood and rich mahogany backdrop. It’s hard to follow the characters’ motivations because, the reality is, they are not ever evoked. In spite of the story’s wobbly intentions, the cinematography and lighting design attempt to provide a backbone. Drawing from a dense pool of references (Pesce’s target appears to land mid-way between a Wes Anderson and Tarantino movie), Zack Galler’s controlled camera captures the chaotic night with precision. Nonetheless, all the flashy camerawork and slick sets cannot mask the fact that there is a gaping hole in the movie’s structural centre.
It’s a struggle to piece together a sense of purpose or even tease out some kind of message. Perhaps Pesce’s goal is simply to confront his audience with violence to see how they can handle it. Ultimately, it’s quite tricky to hop on board. It feels much longer than one would assume of an 82-minute thriller. With help from the comic book-looking set, Reed and Jackie are doomed to be little more than sadomasochistic dolls, with as much depth as a toy is capable, at the mercy of Piercing’s sardonic whims.
Piercing is released in select cinemas and Digital HD on 15th February 2019.
Watch the trailer for Piercing here: