starring Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa, Olivia Bond
written and directed by Nicolas Pesce
by Walter Chaw Opening with a vintage "Feature Presentation" bumper and sporting a couple of lengthy, giallo-inspired transitions scored by vintage needle-drops (Goblin's Tenebrae theme pops up at one point), Nicolas Pesce's Piercing is hamstrung by a peculiar lack of energy and the casting of Mia Wasikowska, who can be very good in a particular type of role (Damsel, Stoker) but is just as often miscast (Alice in Wonderland, Crimson Peak). Piercing wants to be a psychosexual pas de deux between broken people looking to quiet some demons and ends up holding no real surprises over too long a period. It does begin well, as schlubby Reed (Christopher Abbot) thinks about shoving a knitting needle into his baby, who later tells him, in a surprising baritone, to kill a hooker. If only the picture had carried through on that promise to be arthouse Larry Cohen rather than listless De Palma. Alas, once Reed packs his bags for a business trip, makes notes on how he's going to do the deed, and solicits high-priced escort Jackie (Wasikowska), it's clear that Piercing is going to be lugubrious at best and declining at worst. It's a tease. High-minded, arch, and, fatally, superior to the material.
The tables are turned on the businessman seeking to exploit a young woman, and Piercing ends on a sly freeze-frame, which is, essentially, the best criticism of the film there could be. It wants to tell you how smart it is, and I worry it's not as smart as it thinks it is. Jackie is one sick twist--we know this because she pierces her own (body double's) nipple. She likes canned soup if she can doctor it, and she mostly wants to cuddle, I guess. She finds Reed's plans, and that gives her...does it give her ideas? I don't think that rings true to how she's presented. It certainly gives us permission to enjoy Reed's suffering, except we already enjoy his suffering because he's such a nebbish. The talking-baby intrigue is replaced by marital intrigue, and then there's all that style: the saturated colours, the split-screens, the long tracking shots. It's a beautiful-looking film, no question, carried off with a high degree of technical skill and care. If only the script were as polished, its actors as committed to making us truly uncomfortable about the sexual politics of movies like this. Something like Audition, as it happens.