By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska and Laia Costa
Written and directed by Nicolas Pesce
Universal Pictures Content Group
With his sophomore feature PIERCING, writer/director Nicolas Pesce leaves behind the stark black-and-white aesthetic of his genre-riling debut THE EYES OF MY MOTHER for lush, gialli-esque colors, but the psychological and philosophical darkness remains. We are, after all, talking about a film that opens with a man who—though he appears in physical mien, fashion sense and superficial context to be a well-adjusted denizen of the upper middle class—brandishes an icepick over his newborn baby, as if filicide is a hobby he might pick up in the same way his peers would pursue, say, home brewing or curling. And if his wife didn’t wake up and ask him what he’s up to? Would he go through with it?
The answer teeters enough for Reed (Christopher Abbott) to kiss his beautiful, doting Mona (Laia Costa) goodbye to head out on a business trip…which is soon revealed to be merely a ruse for him to ameliorate some of his baser urges with the meticulously-planned-to-the-point-of-OCD slaughter of an escort. As Reed stalks around his hotel room, awaiting the arrival of his prey—making notes about chloroform timing, miming stabs and slashes over an empty bathtub—the fate of the woman en route seems about as sealed as fates can get.
Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and psychopaths, right?
Jackie (Mia Wasikowska) soon slinks in the door and, though we fear for her and Reed isn’t inclined to take her very seriously, the fact is, this girl ain’t mousy. Not by the longest long shot. She’s that other thing, and her would-be killer is about to go tête-à-tête—physically, mentally, metaphysically—with a human being prepared to go to the same extreme, perverse places he presumed to be his sole province. What follows is gut-wrenchingly brutal in its realism at some points, dreamlike at others, but transcendently stylish and captivating as hell throughout.
Adapting a novel by outré Japanese multi-medium artist Ryu Murakami—perhaps best known to Stateside genre devotees as the author of AUDITION, memorably brought to cinematic life by Takashi Miike—Pesce comes out the other side with a film that has the vibe of Brian De Palma co-directing with Michael Haneke and David Lynch. PIERCING is menacing, darkly funny, subversive, grotesque, sexy, challenging, stimulating, immersive and monumentally fucking weird.
What it is not is a casual view for those possessing a steadfast devotion to straight-shooting narrative or the inability to suspend disbelief. This rabbit hole goes deep. It is not difficult to see what a complete and utter disaster PIERCING would be if everything wasn’t totally on point. But Pesce guides us through his alternate universe with a deft, assured hand. Zack Galler slays the cinematography. Abbott is 100 percent convincing in a role that is 100 percent insane. Wasikowska is beguiling, affecting and terror-inducing. The supporting cast is all spot-on. The ending, at first blush, feels a bit premature, but it sticks with you and keeps you wondering about the implications, which indicates it was the right choice after all.
In short, PIERCING proves the harrowing, hyper-imaginative, idiosyncratic vision introduced us to via THE EYES OF MY MOTHER was neither a fluke nor narrow in scope. Pesce looks poised to harrow and provoke for the long haul.