Piercing Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Directed by Nicolas Pesce
Written by Nicolas Pesce (screenplay), Ryu Murakami (novel)
2019, 81 minutes, Rated R
Releases theatrically on February 1st, 2019
Starring:Christopher Abbott as Reed
Mia Wasikowska as Jackie
Laia Costa as Mona
Style versus substance. It’s a debate as old as film itself. Bold visual choices, striking color palette, and signature music will mark a work in the mind indelibly. Where you stand is a matter of personal preference. Some folks must have that solid logic and explanation, that mental click. Others could take it or leave it as long as what’s imprinting on the eyeballs (and various other senses) is hypnotic enough. Fortunately for us there’s Piercing, the sophomore effort from Nicolas Pesce (Eyes of my Mother), based on the novel by Ryu Murakami (creator of Audition, the basis for the Takashi Miike movie of the same name).
That’s right – I said the man who created Audition. Got your attention yet?
Reed (Christopher Abbott; It Comes at Night) is a father on the edge of cracking up. He has a new baby and a very loving wife named Mona (Laia Costa; Victoria) to go with his successful career, but his dark urges are consuming him. He takes an imaginary business trip to get away, checking in at a swanky hotel. He has one goal in mind: to hire and then murder a call girl. He’s sent Jackie (Mia Wasikowska; Crimson Peak), a woman far crazier than he imagined. She may also be exactly what he’s looking for.
From the outset, Piercing inundates you with sleazy grindhouse atmosphere and luridly colored visuals. This isn’t a world you know outside of a 42nd Street theater, but it’s splashed with enough artistic flair and borrowed Italian progressive rock and giallo scores to tickle all those happy places in your dirty little soul. And, believe me, dirty is the key word here.
The captivating miniature city on display in the exteriors serves to put you in a place where you know the fairy tale you’re voyeurizing is altogether different. The borrowed score is full of Goblin (from Deep Red) and Bruno Nicolai (from The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) and immediately showers you in nostalgia. The sets are opulent, almost garish. It’s a film of pure style, and that alone would be enough to make it worth seeing. Simply put, it’s gorgeous in the most sexually charged way.
However, there’s substance to be found in Piercing as well (though much is left to your own interpretation). Reed and Jackie are both horribly damaged people who vacillate between wanting to hurt badly and wanting to be hurt badly. They’re the living embodiment of S&M. There is no shying away from what the core of the relationship is. When she tells Reed, “I want you to wear my skin. It’s okay to make a mess,” you’ll understand exactly how closely tied together sex and violence really are. The theme is clear and Piercing is utterly unafraid of it. The layout is neither linear nor entirely clear in its delivery, but you’ll still get the message.
The comparisons (besides creative origin) with Audition are obvious. That’s not a knock – it’s just a simple fact. Both involve men seeking something and getting more than they bargained for while learning some seriously insane lessons in the process. It’s a very relevant structure and narrative. We’re all learning to navigate a world where the narrative has never been more open, and women have truly taken hold of the power they possess. In Piercing, Reed is clearly in over his head (even if Jackie is completely out of hers). The roles reverse repeatedly, and each time offers something new to chew on.
I’ll give you a heads up that you may not want to watch parts of this if you’ve done any serious number of hallucinogens. There are a couple of highly disturbing scenes that will bug you right the hell out. That’s not a complaint on my end, but I like flashbacks.
Piercing is essentially a two-person show lustily rendered on a warped and bright canvas. Art and film may not always intersect in a way that works; the same can be said for style and substance. This time they do, though, building in a way that its clear progenitor would be highly proud of.
Or ashamed of, maybe. I suppose that all depends on your sexual and philosophical proclivities.
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