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February 01, 2019


piercing poster.jpg

Nicolas Pesce - 2019
Universal Pictures

Piercing is based on a novel by the Japanese author Ryu Murakami. While the name is more familiar to those with an interest in contemporary Japanese literature, more may be know his name through the most famous, or perhaps infamous, film adaptation of his novel, Audition. As a filmmaker of body horror, Nicolas Pesce is not as extreme as Takashi Miike, but there is enough going here to make most viewers feel uncomfortable once the two main characters meet.

Pesce, who also wrote the screenplay, transposes the action from a contemporary Japanese city of 1994 to a fictionalized New York City that appears to be mid 1970s. The first giveaway is the close-up of the push-button phone. There is also the double-breasted suit worn by Christopher Abbott, and telephone booth across the street from a hospital to serve as reminders of a past time. Pesce also announces the influence of giallo with the use of Italian composer Bruno Nicolai's music during the opening credits. For the most part Piercing takes place in a dark hotel room and an equally dimly lit apartment, with designer and the prostitute having a tenuous relationship to the outside world.

Much of the novel consists of interior monologues, including disassociation, of the two characters, only sliver appears in the film. Like Audition, this is about a man whose plan for a specific kind of relationship with a woman is upended by the woman. The man and woman in Murakami's novel both have childhood traumas that are both complimentary but also literally tear the two apart. The motivations in the film are not given that kind of clear explanation. While Murakami takes a look at class and culture in Japan, Pesce's film might be best described as an exercise in mood and style, about two people trying to control themselves and each other, most explicitly through psycho-sexual games.

Mia Wasikowska might not have been considered as a Hitchcock blonde, especially with her short, Dutch boy style hair. It may not have been intentional on Pesce's part, but by having her character as a blonde, she recalls the Hitchcock film about childhood trauma, Marnie. The difference is that the prostitute, Jackie, refuses to let herself be a victim to the men who are her clients, even when hired to be submissive. While Marnie is disturbed by the color red, Jackie is immersed in a color that might even be described as Deep Red, the interior of her apartment, with the theme by Goblin also part of the soundtrack.

Pesce is an admitted fan of horror films. The tracking shot in that long, dark hotel corridor recalls Dario Argento, while the use of split screens was probably influenced by Brian De Palma. While the buildup slowly builds up the feeling of impending dread, the entire films runs slightly more than eighty minutes. There is also some witty use of several familiar pop songs, especially the mopey "Bluer than Blue", as part of the soundtrack. Ultimately, the worst of horrors are that which adults inflict on children, while those between adults are only skin deep.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 1, 2019 08:08 AM