Piercing (3 stars)

Piercing

Stylish, superbly performed horror comedy from Nicolas Pesce

A literal lady killer is the focus of this obscenely stylish horror comedy based on the novel by Ryû Murakami that sets out to shock before doing away with the standard women-as-victims narrative. It's the sophomore feature of writer-director Nicolas Pesce – creator of the comparably chic and provocative The Eyes of My Mother – and is the latest from the New York based production outfit BorderLine Films (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Christine), whose contributions to the cinematic landscape are never less than interesting.

The film begins by flirting with the ultimate taboo as new father Reed (Christopher Abbott) hovers threateningly over his baby's cot, ice pick in hand. As he resumes his pretence of family man, in the company of wife Mona (Victoria's Laia Costa), he resolves instead to murder a prostitute. Fabricating a business trip, Reed sets up in a wood panelled hotel room, places a call to the relevant agency and is seen timing and rehearsing his attack (his solo, almost slapstick exertions are accompanied by gruesome sound effects in a scene of supreme black comedy). Once sadomasochist specialist Jackie (Mia Wasikowska) arrives, however, the messy, wildly unpredictable nature of her humanity puts paid to his meticulous preparations.

Pesce's camera scans the sky-scraping tower blocks of the city – flawless facades that, he seems to suggest, hide a wealth of sinners enacting a multitude of sins. His film comes complete with lashings of midnight movie cool (courtesy of cinematographer Zack Galler and production designer Alan Lampert); it's a particular brand of nostalgia that has been done before, not least by Quentin Tarantino with his Grindhouse project and Kill Bill. The similar, frequently ironic soundtrack mutates from muzak to epic romance to fluctuating alarm.

The skill of the execution is notable throughout; it truly is horribly beautiful. Best of all, in this virtual two-hander, its leads pitch their performances impeccably. Regular BorderLine collaborator Abbott (James White) is a brooding, sweating psychopath lurking behind a veneer of respectability. If he's one slippery fish, Wasikowska vacillates just as intriguingly between deranged, vulnerable and sly. And yet the glib tone, slender premise and runtime make this feel more like a crafty short than a fully evolved feature. Nevertheless, it acts as a brutal riposte to the usual misogynistic fantasy; what appears, at first, a classic game of cat and mouse quickly becomes two felines fighting.

Limited release from Fri 15 Feb.

Piercing

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 21min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Nicolas Pesce
  • Cast: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa

Reed (Abbott) resolves to murder a prostitute, but Jackie (Wasikowska) is more than a little unpredictable. Obscenely stylish horror comedy with impeccable performances from Abbott as the sweaty psycho masquerading as a family man, and Wasikowska as his slippery would-be victim. A brutal riposte to the usual misogynistic…

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