22 February 2019 (UK)
A man kisses his wife and baby goodbye and seemingly heads away on business, with a plan to check into a hotel, call an escort service, and kill an unsuspecting prostitute.
Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa
Piercing is a razor-sharp slice of extreme cinema. An uncompromising submersion into the perverse, macabre and controversial, with the sting of jet black humor, injected throughout. If you are at all squeamish or not open to seeing ‘some really messed up stuff’, give this film a miss. But for those of an acquired bad taste like yours truly, there’s a disturbingly fun ride to be had.
Based on the cult novel by Ryu Murakami who also penned the equally disturbing Audition (Adapted into the terrifying and memorable film from Takashi Miike in 1999), it’s revealing as to what kind of film this is due to its source material. Piercing opens with a feather-ruffling shot involving a newborn baby and an ice pick, in which our protagonist Reed (Christopher Abbott: It Comes at Night, James White) is psyching himself up for his first murder. He tells his wife Mona (Laia Costa) he has to go on a business trip and travels into a swanky hotel in the city (which is a beautifully made retro model similarly seen in the Kill Bill films). Reed begins to meticulously plan the murder in his hotel suite, in which director Nicolas Pesce uses a wickedly funny and disgusting use of sound effects. Reed calls up an escort service to get a girl into his room. But the girl that arrives is called Jackie (Mia Wasikowska Alice In Wonderland, Lawless), and she seemingly starts to ruin Reed’s plans.
I wouldn’t want to spoil the film any more than that. The setup is a simple one, but what follows is an intriguing and bizarre game of cat and mouse as power balances shift and intentions begin to flip. It’s sharp brutality and sexual perverseness is encased in a 70s Giallo (Italian slasher films) atmosphere thanks to its cinematography, special effects and extensive use of split-screen. It elevates the film from quirky and charming in certain scenes and occasionally sores to greater heights when all these aspects work together. At times it feels like it could be a new classic. The soundtrack especially is like the greatest hits album of Giallo and works absolutely wonderfully whether you’ve heard the tracks before or not. But a lagging third act does put a dampener on things.
Thanks to a short runtime the film never renders you exhausted, however, it’s increasingly twisting plot does eventually grind to a halt. It left me with an ending that I honestly had no clue what to make of. I’m not sure if the film has a point, but it certainly eluded me if it did. It felt cold, throwing how worthwhile the entire film is into some doubt. But I had enough of a fun gross-out, repugnant fix to find the overall experience very enjoyable.
For horror fans looking for something a little different, Piercing could be your new cult hit, as long as you’re somewhat prepared to see some nasty imagery. Its absurd nature will certainly divide many, but by that logic, it’s easy to recommend. See it and make up your own mind. Is it stylish or trying too hard? Is it shocking or obnoxious? Is it unforgettable or temporary? I’d go with the former… Mostly.
Stylish, dark, funny and disturbing
Third act that lulls