Piercing (Nicolas Pesce, 2018) – Ithaca Fantastik 2018

A MODERN SCREWBALL GIALLO

Family man Reed (Christopher Abbott) is going on a business trip but in lieu of a suitcase filled with clothes, he’s packed a toothbrush, a murder kit, and a plan to kill a prostitute so can rid himself of his homicidal impulses and continue to be a good husband and father. That call girl, an alluring but unusual woman named Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), is more than he bargained for and the balance of control over their fraught meeting begins to sway back and forth between the two. Before the night is over, a feverish nightmare unfolds, and Reed and Jackie seal their strange bond in blood.

Based on the critically acclaimed cult novel by Ryu Murakami (Audition), director Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of My Mother) blends psychological horror with screwball comedy and sets it against an iconic giallo score, resulting in a sly take on the fantasy of escape and the hazards of modern romance.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Nicolas Pesce
  • Making-of documentary
  • Piercing Murakami: Japanese film scholar Tom Mes on the source novel
  • Knowing the Score: Giallo music expert Jon Dobyns on the music of Piercing
  • According to Plan: New interviews with actors Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, and Laia Costa
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Wendy Ide

Piercing is a movie with a clear Arrow Video pedigree. The film is adapted from the book by Ryū Murakami, the same author who wrote the source novel for Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999), and is the follow-up effort of director Nicolas Pesce, whose previous film, The Eyes of My Mother (2016), was a gorgeously monochromatic slice of feminist, agrarian horror. The film is a cat-and-mouse, S&M thriller with a murderous heart and features a score made up of classic music from iconic gialli like The Red Queen Kills Seven TimesDeep Red, and Tenebrae. And with Piercing picking up distribution with Universal and Arrow Video already having an established relationship with the studio, MMC! can’t help but wonder what an AV edition of this favourite from the 2018 Ithaca Fantastik Film Festival might look like.

Piercing opens with Reed (Christopher Abbott recalling the look and Type A nervousness of New Girl‘s Schmidt) standing over his new baby with an ice pick and the baby asking him, “You know what we have to do, right?” And with that, Reed organizes a fake business trip to purge himself of his murderous impulse. In a smart hotel room, Reed orders a call girl and rehearses his plan to tie up, chloroform, kill, and dismember his anticipated victim (complete with a grisly soundtrack elaborating on Reed’s pantomimed rehearsal). In the same manner that Audition contemplates a man’s undoing by failing to account for a female’s perspective, Reed’s prostitute Jackie (Mia Wasikowska) is not a willing accomplice to her own undoing although her motivations are equally perverse. Jackie’s actions take the pair to the hospital and then Jackie’s apartment where their psychosexual games and sadomasochistic actions intensify, leading to multiple reversals of control and power and confused understandings of their respective complicities. Piercing is a confidently violent film full of bodily trauma, but it is also weirdly romantic. Reed and Jackie recognize each other’s unusual impulses and sense a kind of kinship, and the film largely concerns whether their respective tastes in cruelty are complimentary and whether or not the two will survive that process of discovery.

Pesce, a graduate of the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, creates a wildly stylized world in Piercing that contrasts significantly from the Gothic, black-and-white realism of his previous film. Murakami’s source novel takes its mark from Western thrillers, particularly Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992), and Pesce interpolates the novel to the screen through the same cinematic references by using the music of giallo, the split-screens of Brian De Palma, the shocking formalism of Chan-wook Park, and dank, dated set designs reminiscent of Blue Velvet. Pesce’s fastidious preparations went so far as to build miniature cardboard models of the film’s sets based on production designer Alan Lampert’s plans and shoot the entire movie with puppets in the weeks leading up to production, an approach reflected in the film’s repeated use of scale-model skyscrapers.

Pesce excises all of the background contained in Murakami’s novel regarding Jackie, making her a strange, perplexing cypher with a very uncertain relationship to men, violence, and self-destruction, a manic pixie dream girl for the insecure, self-centred sadist. Reed’s background is nearly as unknown as Jackie’s, being limited to a bizarre, drug-induced nightmare worthy of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s darkest fantasies. The sequence alludes to a violent and deviant childhood dating back to his kinky and demeaning mother, although it comes short of explaining Reed’s psychosis or rationalizing his actions. By keeping these aspects of Jackie and Reed unknown, Pesce’s film collapses the inexplicable nature of romantic attraction into the arbitrariness of fetishized power and the randomness of pathological violence. For many critics, Piercing evokes Quentin Tarantino’s proclivity for pastiche, Wes Anderson’s precise production design, the sociopathy of Mary Harron’s American Psycho (2000), and the tenderly poisoned romance of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (2017). For me though, Piercing has the feel of a cruelly twee story of screwball torture that imagines that Jeunet and Caro’s collaboration never came to an end – Amelie with the meet-cute of contrasting fetishes (in place of personalities) and the delightful sting of druggings and bloodshed (over the conflicts of ex-partners, class disparities, or professional obligations).

Following its premiere at Sundance, Piercing was acquired for distribution by Universal and it is currently scheduled for a February 1, 2019, release. MMC! thinks Pesce’s film would make an unusual but appropriate release by Arrow Video and with Universal catalogue titles like Waterworld (Kevin Reynolds, 1995) and 12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995) already getting the AV treatment, it might not be so outlandish to think that the label might be get first crack at a hard media edition for a new Universal release. Piercing is no sophomore slump and with Pesce currently in post-production on his reboot of The Grudge, the director is a genre filmmaker on the rise and one already ready to celebrate.

Credits: With a theatrical release of Piercing still to come, the extra features suggested here are necessarily imagined. The cover summary was partly based on the film’s own synopsis and Wendy Ide was chosen to provide a booklet essay for her positive review at Screen Daily. Tom Mes provided a commentary on Arrow Video’s release of Audition that compared the film to Murakami’s source novel and so we’ve imagined a similar extra feature given that Murakami’s Piercing has its own set of cinematic inspirations and reflects a cultural attitude toward prostitution that differs from the film’s Western perspective. Jon Dobyns was chosen to discuss the movie’s music based on Tony Giles’ article on giallo soundtracks for The 13th Floor.

This post owes debts to interviews with Pesce by Brad Gullickson for Film School Rejects, Richard Whittaker for The Austin Chronicle, Eric Ortiz Garcia for Screen Anarchy, Heather Wixson for Daily Dead, Filmmaker Magazine, and Screen Daily, as well as reviews by Amy Nicholson for Variety, Marisa Mirabal for /Film, Haleigh Foutch for Collider, Isaac Feldberg for The Arts Fuse, Dan Schindel for Vague Visages, and Andrew Todd for Birth. Movies. Death.

This post supports MMC!‘s coverage of the 2018 Ithaca Fantastik. More reviews and imagined releases of IF films are on the way, so avoid any murderous business trips and skip ordering the soup!

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