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Review: Piercing – “A visionary dark comedy”

I saw Piercing last year during Grimmfest in Manchester, where it was one of three or so stand-out films of the week. It was an early start, so many pundits and critics missed the film, but it’s one that has stayed with me ever since. Now it’s coming out theatrically in some places, but for the most part it’s getting just a VOD release—something that is sadly much too common currently, not just for Indies but also for awards contenders and so on.

Piercing was directed by Nicolas Pesce, who made a festival splash a few years ago with his horror movie The Eyes of My Mother. He has just finished yet another reboot of The Grudge, and it should be interesting to see what he brings to this dead franchise.

Christopher Abbott plays Reed, who is in a retro-futurist city on business. He is a married man with a newborn baby, but he hires a prostitute, and from the get-go you know he has homicidal tendencies. He plans to kill this prostitute, but instead, a quirky young woman, Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), turns up and very quickly turns the tables on the creep. She has her own twisted thoughts, and what happens for the next 50 minutes (the film is only 81 minutes long) is an S&M game of Spy vs. Spy.

It’s based on a novel by Ryū Murakami, who also wrote the source novel that was the basis for Takashi Miike’s Audition, so if you’ve seen that film, you will have an idea of the tone. Piercing is more similar to Phantom Thread, but with dashes of inspiration from the Giallos and also Wes Anderson, especially in its use of models and set design. It opens with an extraordinary view of this very Anderson-esque model cityscape, which returns at points in the film. It’s a film with limited locations, so this device adds an extraordinary scope and dreamlike quality to the film.

Mia Wasikowska is always wonderful, even in bad films, but this is by far her best role in a few years. She perfectly manipulates the man, but also the audience’s expectations of what she is going to do him. I didn’t recognize Christopher Abbott, but going through his filmography it turns out that I’ve seen him in plenty of films but he hadn’t left a dent on me. He is utterly chilling here, and despite that, you do at times feel strangely sympathetic to him.

Piercing is one of the best films of the year, and also one of the most accomplished smaller indie films I saw in the past year. It’s a visionary dark comedy with elements from science fiction, film noir and horror, plus a banging soundtrack that incredibly needle-drops from scores of Dario Argento films. It’s not to be missed: a perfect date movie for misanthropic weirdos. Even if you hate it, it’s only 81 minutes with credits, so no excuses!

You can find me over at Psychotronic Cinema.

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