Tormented by the urge to murder his newborn baby, we first meet family man and closet psychopath Reed (Christopher Abbott) standing over the cot and contemplating driving an ice pick into the child’s skull. Resisting the compulsion, Reed resolves to exorcise his infanticidal desires by taking them out on a surrogate, intending to plan and execute the perfect murder.

Under the pretence of a business trip, Reed rents an anonymous hotel room in another city and books himself an escort, planning to murder and dismember his luckless victim and return to his family a new man, his homicidal impulses satiated. But self-harming call girl Jackie (the always excellent Mia Wasikowska) has other ideas and a wildly unpredictable, deadly and erotic game of cat-and-mouse begins…

I’m calling it now; Piercing is the feel-good romance of the Summer!

A blackly comic, psychosexual (emphasis on the PSYCHO!) S&M love story in which two lost, damaged, fucked-up souls, find and try to kill each other, writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s sophomore feature feels like a universe away from the dark Southern Gothic of his disturbing debut The Eyes Of My Mother. Which isn’t to say that Piercing isn’t dark and disturbing in it’s own right but Pesce’s adaptation of Japanese writer Ryû Murakami’s cult novel is far more playful than it’s source book, closer in spirit to Murakami’s transgressive pink film Tokyo Decadence than it is to possibly his best known work Audition which was filmed by Takashi Miike.

A portrait of buttoned-up repression, Abbott is wonderful as the blank-eyed Reed, a fastidious, obsessive-compulsive planner, a list-maker, the kind of person who plans a holiday with a colour-coded
spreadsheet, who dreams of grisly slaughter but is so anal he can’t bear to see a glass without a coaster. Fetishes, for the most part, can be a little absurd if you don’t share them and Abbott and Pesce aren’t afraid to make Reed look ridiculous, much of the film’s fun lying in watching this naïve fantasist’s carefully laid plans spectacularly derail as he is first thwarted, then drawn to, fascinated by Wasikowska’s damaged lost soul.

Wasikowska meanwhile is as reliably remarkable as ever as Jackie. More maniac than manic pixie dream girl, on paper she’s the perfect victim, but she proves to be an ambiguous force of chaos who may, or may not, be a willing victim. Spiky and jaded, Wasikowska imbues Jackie with a bruised romanticism, a lonely hunger to connect. They may not necessarily be on the same page, but Reed and Jackie recognise in each other an absence, a void the other can fill. More Fifty Shades Of Claret than Grey, as Piercing inevitably spirals into violence, Pesce frames the issue of consent and communication (or miscommunication) right at the heart of the film, his characters never asking how far is too far.

With his deployment of split screen and the filching of a giallo soundtrack, Pesce gives Piercing a pleasingly ‘70s retro feel with it’s chunky, beige landline telephones, Reed’s wood-paneled hotel room
and Jackie’s blood-red, explicitly vaginal boudoir with it’s black silk sheets (surely not the most discreet choice of bedding in her line of work – prone to staining) while his use of models for the cityscape of the exteriors lends the film a fever dream sense of unreality.

Lurid, sexy, violent and laugh-out-loud funny, Piercing is a pleasingly twisted, surprisingly sweet tale of love and little deaths.

Arrow Video Frightfest Review: Piercing
5.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

About The Author