Sundance 2018: Piercing, by David Bax
Even before the sharp objects come out and the blood starts flowing, it’s clear that Nicolas Pesce’s Piercing will be a film of physical performances. In the first few minutes, Christopher Abbott grabs himself by the neck and pinches shut his windpipe. We see his face change, first in color and then in other ways as a gigantic forehead vein bulges and then, once he’s finally let himself breathe again, recedes. There’s no real explanation for the character’s behavior but Piercing is a film of experiences, not explanations. It’s as disgusting as it is titillating and as confounding as it is evocative.
Abbott plays a businessman with a wife and and infant child. He’s leaving them behind for a few days to attend a conference with his coworkers. Or so he says. His real motivation is to do something he’s been planning for years: To murder a prostitute. His target is played by Mia Wasikowska and, without giving away too much about her character, the man’s night doesn’t go exactly as planned.
Pesce, whose last film was the disturbing and strangely moving The Eyes of My Mother, drenches Piercing in alluring style. The production design is out of a high-end 1970s interior design magazine (complete with landlines; there are no cell phones here) and the music oozes pure Italian giallo.
Adding to the fun is Pesce’s pitch black sense of humor. Abbott’s psychopath is the type who hears voices telling him to do awful things and Piercing‘s running gag (not to be confused with the actual gag that appears later) is that these instructions and suggestions keep coming from unexpected places.
Piercing spends its first fifteen minutes or so wallowing in the killer-to-be’s pathology. It’s dark and nauseating, especially given the place of violence by men against women in our current cultural conversation. But this is Pesce’s bait and switch. By the end of its short runtime, Piercing will become both the sexiest movie since The Handmaiden and the most unsettling since, well, The Eyes of My Mother.