Piercing – movie review

Nicolas Pesce’s follow-up to indie cult hit The Eyes of My Mother premiered last year at the Sundance Film Festival, receiving positive reviews but being overshadowed by the great impact of Hereditary.

Unlike Ari Aster’s directorial debut, however, Piercing won’t hit theatres until February 1st (USA) and February 22nd (Europe) of this year. Thanks to the fine people at BorderLine Film Productions (an out-of-the-norm production companies that only finance peculiar movies), I was able to watch and review Piercing in advance. Something I was wholeheartedly excited about, since this movie was one of my most anticipated films of the year.

piercing 1
Argento’s split screen perfectly updated by Nicolas Pesce

Following an outstanding opening sequence that seems to come from the 70s – with grainy filter and soundtrack perfectly fitting that era of cinema – the audience is introduced to Reed (Christopher Abbott), who we see about to kill his own baby with an ice pick! This uncomfortable sequence serves as the perfect introduction to a complex character that is definitely a closet psychopath. In fact, in order not to kill his own offspring, Reed decides he has to stab to death a random prostitute “who needs to speak English”. Yeah, just go with it. The designated victim is Jackie (Mia Wasikowska of Crimson Peak fame) who, however, might just be way more psychopathic than Reed himself.

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I went into this film with high expectations but everything that happened shocked me nonetheless, due to the fact that I had no idea how the story would play out. Part of that is due to the fact that Piercing is based on 1994 Murakami’s novel of the same name: I haven’t read it but, being familiar with this Japanese master of literature, it makes sense that the movie is weird beyond imagination, unique and surreal.

Claiming that the first 20-25 minutes of Piercing are great would be an understatement: all the sequences leading up to Reed and Jackie’s meeting are nothing short of perfect. The movie doesn’t take place in any particular time nor location: the sets look like rooms from a dollhouse, with a prevalence of red colours that give hints to the violence and gore we’re going to be witnesses of. The music, which sounds like the score of Takashi Miike’s work, is astounding: it perfectly combines the eeriness of the situations with the darkly comedic undertone this film is filled with.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Japanese-like tracks start to be intertwined with updated versions of the themes of Tenebrae and Deep Red, two masterpieces by Dario Argento. When this new version of the theme song of Deep Red (arguably the most iconic score of 70s horror cinema) started playing my eyes filled with tears and I began to shake for the emotion.

In fact, the whole picture pays homage to the Italian giallo films of the 70s with constant hints to the J-horror movies from the 90s. All the while, Piercing manages to be its own movie: original, extremely unconventional and purposefully disjointed, creepy and uncomfortable yet hilarious and surreal.

This is only the second film by Nicolas Pesce – if you haven’t seen The Eyes of My Mother, click on the image below to get a copy of it right now – and he’s already perfected his style: in Piercing, every single technical feature is spotless, besides a jarring transition that I can’t believe was included in the final cut.

In regards to the story and its development, I don’t want to say too much (I’ll probably write an analysis and deconstruction of the film in the future) because I don’t intend to spoil the experience for you. I can quote an IMDb user who described Piercing as “A bizarre film that I’m not sure I entirely understood – and yet still managed to enjoy”. Obviously, it means this film is not for everyone: the ending will most likely infuriate 95% of the viewers, most of which will curse at the screen while the others will spend hours finding ‘ending explained’ articles online. Indeed, what was supposed to be the grand finale is utterly frustrating and enraging: and, yet, it made me love this film even more, because I really believe Pesce’s intent was to leave the viewer unsatisfied… just like the characters in Piercing.

Then, why should you watch a movie that will finish in such an irritating way? Aside from all the fantastic aspects I mentioned before, Piercing has two complicated, intriguing characters that are played masterfully by Abbott and Wasikowska: she, in particular, really steals the show and gives a performance you both feel for and get scared of.

piercing 2
Not PG-13 fair…

Yet, Piercing is truly unique: partly dark comedy, partly gory and violent, partly uneasy and sexy, entirely odd. This is a mesmerising viewing experience like nothing I’ve ever seen. Also, for fans of plot twists, let’s say Piercing features quite a few sudden turns that you won’t see coming.

Being very ambitious and original, however, Piercing has also some flaws: for instance, there’s one surreal sequence where the CGI looks cartoonish and poorly rendered. Also, the movie reuses the same shot a couple of times: it was most likely done on purpose, but it still looks a bit cheap in my opinion.

I thoroughly loved Piercing, it exceeded my (pretty high) expectations being very different from what I was expecting. However, it’s one of those films that require multiple viewings and some ‘reading into’ for the viewer to fully appreciate it: therefore, if you don’t want to do that, you might want to avoid this one.

Piercing                      8.5/10

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