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Director: Nicolas Pesce
Starring: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa
Run Time: 81min
“Piercing” is director Nicolas Pesce’s follow up to his 2016 art-house horror “The Eyes of My Mother.” A film that while not a massive hit was enough of critical and cult success to get Pesce marked out as one of the bright young voices of horror (he is only 29). Not only that, but it also brought him to major studio attention as he currently post-production on the latest reboot of “The Grudge.”
Given the impression he made with his debut, it must have been tempting to do something similar. However, Pesce has gone for something slightly less arty and a little more pulpy in this adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s novel. That said, it is similarly stylized like his first film, and it is just as weird albeit in a different way. There is, for instance, a curious mix of genres with black comedy, erotic thriller, and horror all mingling together. How much of the odd tonal shifts are ripped directly from pages of the book and how much is pure Pesce is difficult to know having not read the novel.
The story set-up itself is straightforward enough. We have Reed (Abbott) who is a businessman with a young family who tells his wife he is going away on business, but he actually plans to go to a hotel to kill a prostitute to quell his murderous fantasies. The prostitute in question is Jackie (Wasikowska) who turns out not to be what she first appears. To say much more of the plot would spoil the curious twists and turns. Also, much like the many of the giallo’s the movie is paying tribute the plot is beside the point and it’s easy to see why some will write this off as an indulgent exercise in style over substance.
An assessment which is not far off the mark but the movie is raised by the performances of both Abbott and Wasikowska. Their characters are thinly written, but both give committedly bizarre performances that bring Reed and Jackie to life. They also have excellent on-screen chemistry which helps a lot. Also, while the self-conscious cool maybe off-putting for some there is something delightful about the dedicated retro-style. From the use of miniatures for the buildings to the deployment of back-projection as well as the use of music from the likes of “Deep Red,” “The Red Queen Kills Seven Times.” and more. It is clear from the off we are not in the real world but a purely cinematic one.
Aside from the production design and the lead performances, there are some great individual scenes; such as the darkly humorous sequence where Reed practices his murder method before Jackie arrives in his hotel room. There are several other surreally blackly comical moments like this. The film really flies into gear in its final act too, but unfortunately, this good work is slightly undone by its abrupt and unsatisfying ending.
Overall: A weird, albeit stylishly made, curio which is an eminently watchable but somewhat slight sophomore effort from director Pesce.