Piercing (2018) Poster


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Great style, precious little substance
Bertaut12 November 2018
Warning: Spoilers
From Nicolas Pesce, the writer and director of The Eyes of My Mother (2016), and based on the 1994 novel by Ryû Murakami (who also wrote the novel upon which the similarly themed Ôdishon (1999) was based), Piercing is a darkly comic psychosexual thriller. Partly a screwball comedy about a fastidious man's attempt to murder a prostitute, and his confusion and helplessness when he realises that that prostitute is far more disturbed than he is, the film dares the audience to attempt to figure out who is in charge at any given moment, and to ponder whether one (or both) of these characters would actually be quite happy to be the other's victim. Purposely made to look like a sleazy seventies skin flick, the film's sense of nostalgia drips off the screen, manifest in everything from the music borrowed from giallo films to the art-deco production design to the patently fake urban skyline to the lurid opening credits (complete with retro "Feature Presentation" card). However, at the moment, Pesce is a stylist without much to say; as in The Eyes of My Mother, he is unable to match his not-inconsiderable aesthetic acumen with any kind of significant or tangible emotionality. The two leads are not necessarily the type of characters we're naturally predisposed to feel empathetic towards, but we surely must be expected to feel something. Anything. However, with no real sense of psychological verisimilitude nor much in the way of interiority, they remain essentially blank canvases, and primarily for this reason, the film feels more like a sketch than a finished product.

Set in a non-specific city, the barely-there plot concerns Reed (Christopher Abbott), who decides he is going to kill a prostitute. However, when the time comes to do the deed, things go down-hill fast, as Jackie (a superb turn from Mia Wasikowska) isn't entirely sane herself. Partly a film about coming to terms with desires deemed fetishistic by society, and partly an erotic thriller about two people who seem genuinely confused as to whether they're teammates or opponents, the film's most salient theme is, perhaps, the issue of sexual consent, and how easily muddled it can become. It's a brave theme to take on in this post MeToo era, with the film daring to ask whether consent should still be applicable if a person has consented to something harmful to their person, even up to the point of consensual homicide. Although there's no cannibalism in the film, the storyline reminded me a little of the 2001 case of Armin Meiwes, who murdered and ate Bernd Jürgen Brandes with Brandes's complete consent. The film doesn't deal with the case explicitly, but the shifting sexual power-play between Reed and Jackie, and the fact that at least twice, one of them believes they've been granted permission to murder the other, raises similar moral issues.

Within the parameters of this theme, one of the most obvious aspects of the film is its sense of humour, with many of the laughs coming from how utterly anal Reed is. Half Patrick Bateman, half Frank Spencer, once an unpredictable human element is introduced into his scheme, he finds himself unable to think on-the-fly. As his meticulously laid plans go up in smoke, he proves comically inept at handling any kind of interpersonal relationship (one wonders how he ever wooed Mona). However, the fact that most of the comedy lands on his shoulders throws into relief perhaps the film's most egregious problem; although a good 90% of the narrative is told from his perspective, there's precious little to his personality. Granted, a couple of final-act flashbacks fill us in on why he is so obsessed with murder, but his character simply isn't capable of filling out the film's 81 minutes. And there's less character detail on Jackie than there is on Reed. Despite this, Wasikowska gives a superb performance, all facial tics, unspoken volatility, and nervous mannerisms, with an almost balletic way of moving.

The problem for me is that nothing in the film really lingers - and when some of the imagery is this extreme, it should definitely linger. For example, I've never been able to completely forget my first viewing of Ôdishon - not because of the violence per se, but because the film spends so long building up the character of Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), so that when those needles and that wire saw come out, you absolutely feel the weight of what is about to happen. In Piercing, I don't really think there's any depravity that Reed and Jackie could have inflicted on one another than would have provoked an emotional response, because I didn't know them, and therefore was unable to care about them, as people.

Aesthetically, however, there's a great deal to praise here, with the sound design particularly inventive. During Reed's rehearsal of the murder, he goes through the entire act, from the initial drugging to the dismemberment. On screen, we see him pantomime the actions, but on the soundtrack, we hear the disturbing foley of everything - so as he's miming sawing, we hear a saw cut through flesh and bone. It's a brilliant way to place us firmly within his subjective experience, and it also serves to remind us that the innocent looking Reed is very much planning to do real harm to someone. On a similar note, the music is absolutely top notch. Eschewing an original score, the film instead employs pre-existing tracks primarily from giallo films, including Goblin's scores for Dario Argento's Profondo rosso (1975) and Tenebre (1982), and Bruno Nicolai's score for Emilio Miraglia's La dama rossa uccide sette volte (1972).

The visual aesthetic is oftentimes as impressive as the aural. Exteriors (of which there are very few beyond the opening and closing credits) are obviously miniatures, with very little effort to make them look photorealistic. This sets an otherworldly tone right from the start, as if the film is taking place in a slightly alternate reality, as the real and the fake mix together in Reed's confused mind. Interiors are blank, as if they are show-houses, not actually inhabited by a flesh and blood person - one shot, for example, shows a drink's cabinet where the bottles have no brands, just the name of the alcohol. Again, this sets the film's reality apart, as if everything is happening just outside our own world, or our own conception of the world. There are also a couple of nods to the master of body horror, David Cronenberg - a stomach wound pulses and expands as if breathing, a gigantic beetle crawls out of a toilet and infects a character's face, scissor wounds are curiously fingered, a character's ear is split open with a tin opener. It's all very Disney!

Ultimately, however, Piercing is more interested in aesthetics than exploring the psychology of the characters. The increasingly extreme goings-on are never anything more than a jokey end unto themselves, with the psychological path that has led the characters to these extremities relatively ignored. With Pesce focused on comedy beats, there are certainly a few laughs, but there's precious little substance. He's undoubtedly adept at evoking the most absurdly grotesque comedy, but he is, thus far in his career, equally as uninterested in developing character or plot. And for that reason, the film comes across more like a calling-card than a self-sustained and complete product.
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Retro-styled horror-thriller, which will divide opinion
Red-Barracuda30 June 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This is an example of a recent type of movie typified by Amer (2009), The Strange Colour of your Body's Tears (2013) and The Love Witch (2016), which derives much of its aesthetic and aural influence from the Italian giallo films of the 70's. Being a confirmed sucker for this sub-genre, I pretty much immediately cut Piercing some slack more or less straight away. The soundtrack includes music from the likes of Goblin and Ennio Morricone, which adorned giallo classics from the past, while the look was reminiscent of this period too, with decidedly retro décor and devices, including a yellow (giallo) phone and record player. The 21st century doesn't encroach much in this movie. It has to be said that its chief strength is certainly in its look and sound, which also includes extensive use of Brian DePalma inspired split-screen too. The story itself additionally recalls elements of the Japanese horror Audition (1999). It is about a sociopathic man who stops short of murdering his baby daughter when he thinks he hears her talk to him, impelling him to murder a call girl. Consequently, he books a hotel room and hires a girl but the trouble is that she seems to be as deranged as he, leading the spider to become the fly.

Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska star in this one, with very few other actors appearing. It is a very minimalistic affair story-wise, in what boils down to a cat-and-mouse narrative. Truthfully, the story is probably the weak point here, as it doesn't particularly go anywhere and could have done with a bit of extra development I reckon. There isn't quite enough meat to it to ensure it is entirely satisfying. Still, even though I have some reservations, I did enjoy this one nevertheless. I appreciated the giallo influence (even though it certainly is not a giallo itself) and did like the overall visual presentation. Some scenes were particularly well done, such as the bad trip sequence, and it does have a somewhat off-kilter feel to it in terms of atmosphere and performances throughout. One thing is for sure though, this one is going to be very divisive, as its flagrant disregard for narrative will put a few folks well off but if you don't mind that too much and have a love of the flamboyant style of the 70's Italian thrillers then this one should at least tick a few boxes for sure.
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slt-filho31 December 2018
It's half-way nostalgia style fetish, half-way sadomasochist play, and halfway thriller, where nothing works in full. To be fair, the only fully developed thing is the lunacy the characters, which renders the movie pointless in a charicatural word where nothing needs to make any sense. No one to root for, nothing to expect but more lunacy. At some point all we hope is that he won't kill her, because that would mean we are left alone with the main character - a dorky, flavorless average Joe, wrapped in a velvet-coated mess.
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A bizarre film that I'm not sure I entirely understood - and yet still managed to enjoy
jtindahouse17 January 2019
Back in 2016 I called Nicolas Pesce's debut film 'The Eyes of My Mother' a horror masterpiece. It blew me away and I have been excited for his follow-up film ever since. 'Piercing' is quite a similar film in a lot of ways, but it couldn't quite live up to his previous film.

This is a bizarre and baffling film at times. I'm not sure I entirely understood it, but I'm also not sure whether I was supposed to understand it. On the surface the film sets up a very simple concept, but in reality it all becomes very complex and hard to follow. Usually being hard to understand is the death of a film and yet it wasn't on this occasion. I was still able to have a great time with it.

Somehow the film manages to be incredibly soothing and almost peaceful to watch. A combination of great dialogue, background music and acting make it this way. This is a very well put together film. It is listed as a horror film on IMDb currently but I would advise that it really isn't. At least not for the large majority of the runtime. This may not be a film for everyone, but I managed to throughly enjoy myself and I think most that watch it will be able to get at least something out of it.
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Stylish, brutal and unforgettable!
palovyper8 November 2018
I found everything about this film awesome! From the 70's setting to the übercool music to the twists and turns in the story. It's absurd and gory in a unconventional way, as well as stylish and well-acted. As a leading man, Christopher Abbot has a magnetic presence throughout. Highly recommended, especially for horror fans that are tired of generic flicks within this genre.
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Loved it
tjmf-6645417 January 2019
Absolutely loved it, epic movie. The acting, directing, top notch. The script is amazing, a little dark, and brilliantly odd. I read that it's from a novel, I haven't heard much about it, but if this movie is anything to go by, it'd be a quality read. Someone has put allot of thought into some dark stuff. From the opening scenes, your thinking, hold on a minute, what the f is this. I don't think I know the male lead, Christopher Abbott, but he certainly looks the part here. Do you know that old saying that goes "but he seemed so nice" ...it suits him. Mia Wasikowska, she's one of my favorite actors, and she plays this role superbly. I'd like to say more but it's difficult without giving anything away. Both of them are great to watch in this, bizarre, but great to watch. I like the way it all plays out, all the way through, it's captivating.
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sinobad-91-66302016 January 2019
This is sooo bad. If there was only a way yo get back the lost time it took to watch this thing that shouldnt even be called a movie.
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This ISN'T a review... YET...
PrettyPrettyPrincess97626 November 2018
I am super excited about watching this movie because of Christopher Abbott! I liked him a lot in GIRLS, but what really caught my attention about his brilliant acting was him in SWEET VIRGINIA! For those who haven't seen it.. Go now... He was brilliant! He scared me to death in that character! I'm wondering if he'll do the same in this role or even surprise me again doing something completely different!
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all about.....?
ops-5253516 January 2019
As i sit here after watching piercing, i realise that i have tasted the bitter taste of madness.,its black vs white,or blond vs dark, its s/m,lust,deathwish,icepicks,a hore and a tiny little man . its two seperate madnesses clinching together,each craving blood from one another, and are totally transfixed and blinded by their fetishism of........!

this may sound kauderwelsh to everybody, and the twists and lures that gives this film sting and a little bit of laughter,are so bedafling that you forget to switch it of.

what i liked best was the silent acting,lets call it pantomime,as dario fo performed so terrificly in my childhood years, it is so brilliantly done. especially his warm-up session in the bed and bathroom are wunderbar(-e).

its a film for the nutty viewer and i can guaratee that 95% of the potentiall viewers will stop it within seks have actually started. so have a good look at it, it has qualities for sure, but its not for self-harmers or for those under 12.
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Why do we accept brutality, violence & murder in our "entertainment"?
johnvukovich19 January 2019
These reviews and this movie remind me too much of when we went to see "Gone Girl". We almost walked out of the theater after the gory slashing and the blood soaked bed sheets, and the sex scenes were all done "under cover" or filmed in such a way that you barely saw any exposed skin. When did it change where blood and violence are acceptable as "entertainment" and the human body and sexuality are seen as "unacceptable"?
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