A year past the release of his debut feature, his challenging and disturbing look at the world of an isolated orphan through The Eyes of My Mother, director Nicolas Pesce’s second film is equally awkward and uncomfortable as he examines extremes of behaviour down another avenue in Piercing, adapted from the 1994 novel by Ryû Murakami, author of Audition which was adapted by Takashi Miike in 1999 into a similarly bizarre and divisive cinematic event.
From a distance the city seems flawless, the perfect apartments pouring warm light out from their illuminated windows, but within the story is different as Reed (It Comes at Night‘s Christopher Abbott) harbours dark thoughts, fantasies he cannot control about harming his baby or himself.
Attempting to rid himself of these feelings by means of expressing them constructively, on a business trip he arranges – with the full knowledge and consent of his wife Mona (Laia Costa) – to meet a prostitute for the express purpose of torturing and killing her, rehearsing his actions and reactions, testing doses of chloroform on himself, practicing shifting the body to the bathtub to drain the blood and saw the bones.
Yet from the moment she arrives Reed is thrown by the unconventional and forthright Jackie (The Double‘s Mia Wasikowska), taking the initiative and making him realise just how unprepared he is, her unashamed and uninhibited presence throwing off his carefully laid plan and forcing him into a role he had not expected.
With its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Piercing is almost entirely a two-hander and largely set within the plush surround of the hotel suite, intimate and off-putting, seductive and repellent, superficially appealing but concealing deep dysfunction, observing the dance between the players as they spiral downwards.
Wasikowska subverting the expectations of a role which would traditionally be a submissive victim, Jackie is fifty shades of no-nonsense, at turns flirty, deflective and abstract then direct and challenging Reed’s limits and fears, of which there are many, possessed by her compulsions just as much as he, so who are they to judge each other?
Reflecting modern gender politics, the ownership of one’s body and matters of consent, spoken and implicit, with a laidback loungecore soundtrack drawing on classic cinematic sources from the seventies, in his experiment with Piercing Pesce takes torture porn out of the dungeon and into a world of boutique apartments, fresh coffee, homemade soup, vintage record players and ice picks and ball gags.
Offering something to please even the most eclectic hipster and blending the look of Lynch, the oddness of Almodóvar, the body horror of Cronenberg, the verve of Refn and the pendulum of power games of Hard Candy, Piercing is sharp and fast but will not be for everyone, an acquired taste which will horrify as many viewers as it entrances.