Horror 365 Movie 29: Piercing

Every now and then, I come across something that makes me wonder what I’ve just watched. Sometimes that’s infuriating. It feels like being pickpocketed. You reach for your wallet, and think, “Well where the fuck did it go?”

That’s how I felt about the two+ hours of my life it took to slog through I’m Thinking Of Ending Things.

Honestly that’s the case for me with every Kaufman movie, so to even consider seeing I’m Thinking Of Ending Things was an unadulterated act of optimism. Such acts rarely end well for me.

Other times, it’s more of a, “Wait. What?” kind of reaction–something you know you’ll have to experience again in order to confirm or even make sense of what just happened. This is how it was with Piercing.

I won’t spoil this with any details, but if you can get past the opening shot, you’re in for a wild ride. The setup is simple. Husband/father Reed (Christopher Abbot) hires prostitute Jackie (an unnerving Mia Wasikowska) under the pretense of indulging in some S&M activities.

In reality, he intends to chloroform her, kill her with an ice pick, and dismember her. This instantly sets the tension pretty damn high, and it builds throughout a brisk 82-minute runtime.

The twists on this already twisted premise start quickly and continue at a rapid pace, and that’s as far as I’m willing to go because if you’ve seen Piercing, well, I don’t have to explain. If you haven’t, I don’t want to give you any preconceived notions. Stop here, and go into it cold.

What I will say has to do with the film’s style. Again, if you’ve not seen it, I suggest not reading this either. And yes, I know I throw the word giallo around quite a bit. It’s the purest coincidence. These are just the titles comin’ outta the box. But man oh man, does this movie lay it on thick and heavy.

In fact, just as noir-style movies after the 1950s were called neo-noir, movies like Piercing made after, say, the 1980s could well be referred to as neo-giallo (I wish I was the first to use that term. Alas). Still, many of the stylistic elements are there: gloves, black leather, sex, bizarre interpersonal relationships, unclear motivation, unexplained events, unbalanced psyches. The colors are deep and rich, and the vibe is deeply weird.

But there’s more to it than that. I’d be willing to go a step further and suggest there is some meta-giallo here. Lemme ‘splain. Plenty of movies can be filed under the neo-giallo heading: Berberian Sound Studio, Amer, even some later Argento efforts.

It’s not merely that Piercing tosses in one giallo standard after another: weaponized ice pick, hallucinations, disjointed flashbacks, secondary female character who adds to the overall, well, ickiness. It’s more the sly, self-awareness wink with which director Nicolas Pesce wields them. Hell there’s even a rotary phone and some screen splitting.

Last but not least, with pieces from Camille 2000, Deep Red, The Laughing Woman, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, and Tenebre, even the soundtrack is a throwback to the era of Argento, Bava, Franco, Lenzi, etc. It’s the perfect cherry on this meta-sundae (or, in this case, gelato).

2 onscreen
(including 1 rabbit)

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