PIERCING Leaves its Mark

From the minds who brought you AUDITION and THE EYES OF MY MOTHER

Watching the trailer for the new indie sexual thriller Piercing is an experience all its own in terms of the levels of subtle extremism it puts on display. Even though some may decry it for containing one or two story twists, a practice always ripe for criticism when it comes to industry marketing, the film itself is such an unpredictable beast, that the basic reveals do nothing to prepare audiences for the twisted rollercoaster ride that Piercing proves to be in the end. If there would be a top comparison to the almost-unclassifiable film, it would be Audition; the groundbreaking piece of Japanese sexual horror, which would help comprise one of the most intriguing of double bills. Besides both films originating from novels by the same author, the two works are classic examples of what happens when a damaged soul goes dallying in the darkness, only to find they’ve lost themselves completely within it. What makes Piercing the more terrifying however, is the desire to remain there and never come back out.

In Piercing, husband and father Reed (Christopher Abbott) kisses his wife Mona (Laia Costa) and their infant daughter goodbye as he heads out of town on a business trip. In actuality, Reed’s plans don’t include business, but rather the intention of hiring a prostitute to come to his hotel room so he can kill her. Reed finds said prostitute in Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), a slightly unhinged lady of the night who shows up at her client’s hotel suite and quickly takes his night down a path he never saw coming.

The themes behind Piercing will only appeal to a specific number of film lovers; and even they may find the movie a bit too much to take. This is a stark film with two protagonists who exude little-to-no redeeming qualities and engage in acts of sadism and (what some may call) mercy killing. There’s a great deal of emotional damage to both Reed and Jackie, but the film never really lets us know what these might be. We don’t know why Reed is so intent on hiring a prostitute just to kill her or why Jackie is so drawn to games of pain and self-mutilation. This work both for and against the film. On the one hand, we never get to look at the two leads as anything more than beautiful monsters who happily find themselves in the world of sexual torture and psychological terror. At the same time, it allows the audience to always be weary and on edge where these two are concerned; continuously theorizing the horrors of their respective journeys which have led them to their present existence. But Piercing makes sure to give it’s characters doses of humanity in the way they react with shock to the discovery of each other’s demented nature, showing that even twisted minds aren’t immune to fear.

While only a select few will find Piercing’s content palatable enough to stick with it through to the end, plenty won’t be able to resist the lush style with which the film has been crafted. Director Nicolas Pesce (whose lauded debut The Eyes of My Mother showed a knack for crafting a tale full of horror and beauty) drapes his film in the kind of rich, vibrant colors which helped give Italian horror much of its popularity. From Reed’s hotel room, to Jackie’s apartment, the use of color (particularly the never ending series of reds), give Piercing an otherworldly feel. Adding to this is the specifically lit city buildings and the way Pesce has opted to shoot them with a dreamy, slightly surreal gauze that makes the Piercing feel as if it exists in a realm all its own. The director scores by employing some De Palma-esque split screens which serve to appropriately heighten the tension, with the lead up to the two characters’ initial meeting turning into one of the film’s best sequences. Finally, the music, large and operatic, while also somewhat sinister, gloriously moves the aforementioned scene along, as well as an earlier one where Reed is shown practicing the way he will take out his victim which is timed and choreographed to the music so exquisitely, it can’t help but give Piercing a definite flair and panache.

Piercing couldn’t have found two better leads than Abbott and Wasikowska. The pair are beautiful to look at, but pull off the more than tricky material with an eerie earnestness that saves the film from ever feeling laughable. Their commitment to Reed and Jackie as a pair of lost, damaged souls help make the disturbing material more compulsively watchable than it deserves to be. A small handful of supporting actors turn up in the brief film, but only Costa as supporting wife Mona makes an impression, imparting a tenderness that goes from serene to chilling in the blink of an eye.

It’s hard to say who a film such as Piercing would be for, even within the world of cinephiles. For the most part, fans of grindhouse and giallo cinema will certainly applaud the effort, as well as perhaps fans of the author. Personally, while I enjoyed the experience of Piercing, it’s hard, even by psychological horror standards, to find enough about it to pull me back for a revisiting. None of this has to do with the content, but moreso with the film’s relationship to it and the world it creates as a result. Similar actions have certainly been explored cinematically before through titles such as American Psycho and The Last House on the Left. Yet the fact that the former remains a favorite and the latter an experience I never wish to relive, has purely to do with the level of willing engagement and stark presentation of humans torturing each other and the dark satiating curiosity at the core of it all. While Piercing lies somewhere of the middle in terms of the explicitness and effects of the above mentioned films, at times excruciating to take, while also oddly absorbing, this is nonetheless a worthwhile venture in the underworld of human behavior.

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