Director: Nicolas Pesce
Year of release: 2019
Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
In terms of self-conscious homage, Nicolas Pesce’s debut feature, The Eyes of My Mother, was an embarrassing combination of Gothic horror and Michael Haneke-cribbed nonsense. It signaled a young filmmaker aping a particular style without bothering to give us characters who felt like they were existing in the real world. Pesce’s followup, Piercing, is just as flashy, but the aesthetic here contains a playful knowingness along with two performers who manage to flesh out the emotional and psychological contours of their characters. While the film may end abruptly just as it’s beginning to take flight, Piercing goes a long way in correcting the ponderousness of The Eyes of My Mother with a little chloroform, gender politics, and deadly icepick games to liven up the action.
The picture follows Reed (Christopher Abbott), a newly minted father on the brink of madness who travels into the city in hopes of murdering a prostitute. Checking into a hotel, he disturbingly (and humorously) pantomimes his methods for gagging, stabbing, and disposing the body; all set to heightened sound design which foregrounds his unbalanced mental state. He ends up setting his sights on prostitute Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), and what follows is a stylized chamber drama in which two similarly neurotic people feel each other out; aided by Abbot and Wasikowska’s sexually coiled performances.
Piecing is highly indebted to the Italian Giallo sub-genre; with its emphasis on stalking, obsession, and slasher-movie motifs. There’s even whimsical miniature city scapes, rotary phones, and liberal borrowing of scores from Dario Argento’s Tenebrae and Deep Red, just in case we didn’t catch the reference points already. However, Pesce also conjures the off-kilter weirdness of David Lynch (especially in regards to the art design of the hotel where most of the film takes place) and the neurotic relational dramas of Paul Thomas Anderson; with the central dynamic of Phantom Thread being the obvious reference point, along with one particular line reading from Wasikowska inside a taxi clearly referencing Punch Drunk Love.
There’s enough here to suggest Pesce could one day make something which transcends its obvious influences, but for now, Piercing works as a synthesis of affectations from other filmmakers wrapped inside a black comedy about two wayward souls yearning to dive deeper into their twisted obsessions.