Based on the 1994 book of the same name, Piercing is the kind of story that can only come from the mind of Ryu Murakami (Audition). More of a novella, Piercing focuses on a man who is grappling with long festering mental and emotional scars resurfacing after the birth of his daughter. While his wife sleeps, he stands over his infant daughter with an icepick and reassures himself that he will never actually hurt her. He decides that he will spend an extended weekend in a hotel in the city, hire an escort and live out his fantasy of watching an icepick pierce the smooth, milky skin of the unfortunate woman who answers his call. And then he’s cured; he can return home and never worry about harming his daughter again. Easy, right?
Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of My Mother) has taken on the task of writing the screenplay and directing the film: a task that could have very easily turned into a giant shit-pile of torture porn muck. Instead, Pesce has created a genuinely gorgeous dark comedy that is haunting in all of the right ways.
Starring Christopher Abbott (The Sinner) as Reed, his past nightmares and present perverse desires are all expressed in the book via his thoughts, but Pesce finds very creative and, dare I say, charming ways to have Abbott physically act them out or calmly explain them via voiceover. After arriving at his hotel room, he immediately begins experimenting with Chloroform to determine the correct dose for the amount of time he would like the escort to be unconscious and also acts out how he believes the stabbing and subsequent body disposal will go. The stabbing and dismemberment pantomime with his accompanying sound effects is particularly funny. Disturbing, but amusing in the way that Reed believes it’s all going to be so simple. But this is a Murakami story, so the woman who arrives to fulfill Reed’s fantasy is not the kind of woman he was planning on.
Jackie (Mia Wasikowska) looks pleasant enough and certainly appears to be just the right amount of delicate and meek, but Jackie has come with her own emotional baggage and it is just as deeply disturbing as Reed’s. To say that neither of these two anticipated where their evening was going to go is a massive, massive understatement. Both Reed and Jackie assumed that they were going to be the one in charge of the events, but these two will find themselves engaged in a bloody and strangely intimate battle of neuroses.
Loathe to overuse the term slow burn, that’s precisely what Piercing is. If Lost in Translation was reimagined by Murakami and Hitchcock was brought in to put his personal touches on it, you would get Piercing. It’s bizarre, beautiful, unnerving and Pesce has crafted a lovely, albeit very strange, story of what happens when sadism and massochism accidentally meet.