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“Piercing” Is A Sickening Showcase For Christopher Abbott And Mia Wasikowska

When the author of the horror classic Audition sees his work adapted by the filmmaker behind The Eyes of My Mother, you know you’re in for something weird. Opening this week, Piercing is more than weird. It’s an often bizarre mix of comedy, horror, and suspense. It doesn’t fully work, but the ambition level is off the charts, especially for a movie that barely clocks in at 80 minutes long. Films like these sometimes end up finding a cult audience. The masses won’t ever see this one, but a select few might make an effort to see just how insane things can get.

The movie is, as mentioned, a hybrid between genres. Horror/suspense/thriller, with comedic aspects, which will sound pretty strange, considering the plot. We meet husband and new father Reed (Christopher Abbott) as he holds a sharp object over his baby’s body. In his mind, he even hears the child spur him on. Something is definitely wrong deep inside of Reed. So, he tells his wife Mona (Laia Costa) that he has a business trip, checks into a hotel room, and begins to plan the perfect murder. He calls up an escort service, planning to kill and dismember a prostitute. He even plans it out to the second. Then, when the service sends Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), his plans get thrown for a psycho-sexual loop. Describing anything that happens once she meets him would be a definite spoiler, but suffice to say, it isn’t for the weak of heart (or stomach). Nicolas Pesce adapts the novel and directs here. Supporting players include Maria Dizzia, Marin Ireland, and Wendall Pierce, though the focus is almost always just on Abbott and Wasikowska. Cinematography is by Zack Galler.

The longer the film went on, the less I liked it. It starts out as a morbid bit of fun, to be fair. Then, the fun stops, leaving you with a largely nonsensical story. The deeper and weirder Pesce dives in, the more you find yourself turned off by the whole thing. Don’t even get me started on the ending, which is absurdly bad. Whatever good will the first act generates, it is completely used up by then. There’s style to spare, but it all amounts to very little. The movie is stylish and well acted, just ultimately something that’s not able to add up to enough.

Abbott and Wasikowska are admittedly great here. The former has a sort of nerdy take on Christian Bale in American Psycho, while the latter has a kinkier interpretation of something resembling Ellen Page in Hard Candy. Those two films seem like influences at times, though Pesce is off doing his own thing, that’s for sure. Abbott and Wasikowska are reliably good actors, so pairing them together for a two hander like this had potential. They do their part. It’s just the story that lets them down. When things are still revealing themselves, the possibilities are still endless and the flick still works. By the third act, however? Not so much.

Here’s the thing. Piercing is far from a bad film. It’s got strong acting, a distinct visual style, and a dark sense of humor. It just also can’t fully explain what it wants to be. The term “interesting failure” definitely applies here. Pesce remains a filmmaker to watch out for though, I won’t deny that. Abbott and Wasikowska nearly drag this one over the finish line, but it’s not to be. They more than pull their weight though, so keep that in mind. If you’re morbidly curious, seek it out and give it a shot. Just know that I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it…

Piercing opens in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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