Piercing (2018) ***

I'm pretty torn on my opinion of Piercing (2018). On one hand I scoffed at the audacity of a director using Goblin tracks from not one, but two Dario Argento films (along with multiple tracks by Stelvio Cipriani, Bruno Nicolai, and Piero Piccioni), but also using split screen on more than one occasion, in a clear reference to Brian De Palma. Sometimes I find it distracting when a director (*cough cough* Tarantino) uses songs/score specifically written for another film and casually places them into their own—it takes me out of the film that I'm supposed to be engaged in. Other times, as in the case of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, it doesn't bother me. As to using another director's trademark technique, it really depends on whether it furthers the story. But I also have to remind myself that in the same way all of the above kind of bothers me, people have said the same about the aforementioned De Palma—that he's a hack and a Hitchcock copycat. There's such a fine line between homage and ripoff, no?

Anyway, it's obvious that director Nicolas Pesce is a fan of gialli (I mean look at the color of the theatrical posters), but it just comes off a wee bit heavy-handed. Piercing is based on a 1994 novel by Ryū Murakami, who also wrote the novel Audition (1994), which served as the basis for the infamous 1999 film by Takashi Miike. There are definite similarities between the characters and their actions in both films. In Piercing, a man leaves his family for what he says is a business trip, but he has definite plans to check into a hotel with the intention to kill a prostitute. Suffice to say, things do not go according to plan and his plans get turned on their head.

Why does our lead have this desire to kill? There's never really much explanation given. There are a few flashbacks to child abuse at the hands of his mother but it doesn't really help to explain much. Especially because Reed has a loving wife (Laia Costa in a brief, thankless role) and baby. In any case, Reed is psychotic. Side note: it's interesting how with some films less is more when it comes to back story—archetypal villains/charismatic antiheroes can and often do work without the need for over-explaining their motives, but then there are times when the story feels underdeveloped. Personally, I'm not sure I can quite put my finger on why it works sometimes and not others.

On the plus side, there are points to appreciate about Piercing. A silent dry run (aided by delicious sound f/x) by Reed of his murderous plans early on in the film is a particular highlight. To name a few others: the colors and textures of the production design, competent camerawork, the intentional artifice of the plasticky model buildings, and, most importantly, the performances of our two very attractive leads, played by Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska, who we spend almost the entire running time with. Both of them expertly portray damaged but intriguing misfits. I just wish we got to known their characters a bit more.

The abruptness of the punchline that is the ending was simultaneously unsatisfying and yet appropriate. While I am usually one to bemoan overly long films, in this case 20 more minutes of plot development could have gone a long way. Piercing is a mere 81 minutes, leaving the film a good but frustratingly lean psychosexual S&M black comedy.

For fans of Audition (1999), American Psycho (2000), Blue Velvet (1986) and Jim Thompson.