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Piercing review: This stylish BDSM horror comedy is both repulsive and funny

Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott are quirky and engaging in Nicolas Pesce’s adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s cult novel

Geoffrey Macnab
Thursday 14 February 2019 12:52 GMT
Wasikowska stars as Jackie in a depraved 80 minutes of entertainment
Wasikowska stars as Jackie in a depraved 80 minutes of entertainment (Vertigo)

Director: Nicolas Pesce. Starring: Christopher Abbott, Olivia Bond, Laia Costa, Maria Dizzia, Marin Ireland, Dakota Lustick, Mia Wasikowska. Cert 18, 81 mins

Nicolas Pesce’s sleek and stylish horror comedy is repulsive and funny by turns. In adapting Ryu Murakami’s cult novel, Pesce strikes just the right balance between humour and Grand Guignol-style shock tactics. The film is essentially a two-hander and it helps that he has elicited performances from Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott that are so quirky and engaging.

Abbott plays Reed, a handsome young businessman with a hint of Ted Bundy about him. He may have psychotic tendencies but he is also very politely spoken. Reed is seen early on weighing up whether he should attack his newborn baby with an ice pick. When he goes away on a business trip, he plots to murder an English-speaking prostitute as a way of curbing his blood lust. Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), the women he hires, turns out to be even more twisted than he is. They strike up an immediate rapport.

Pesce takes his characters to some very dark places. There is plenty of what the British Board of Film Classification calls “strong bloody violence” here. Both Reed and Jackie have an unwholesome obsession with BDSM and self-harming. However, they will always take time out from trying to kill or torture one another to have a bowl of soup together.

There is something comical about the meticulous way the uptight Reed prepares his crime, trying to anticipate whether or not he will need a change of clothes and what to do about the blood that may be spilled. This would-be murderer is very apologetic about making too much noise in his hotel room. He is new to the world of S&M and rehearses his lines – “Can I tie you up?” – again and again before his victim arrives. He lays all his ghoulish torture instruments out on the bed. As he starts rehearsing his murderous moves, Pesce throws in sound effects that make it seem as if he is attacking someone for real.

Wasikowska has always excelled at playing oddball outsiders. Her character here is like a more humorous and skittish version of the damaged young woman arriving in a very decadent Hollywood in David Cronenberg’s satire, Maps to the Stars.

Both characters take turns in being tied up and exposed to violence. Some scenes are very gruesome indeed but they are then invariably followed by comic interludes. Reed and Jackie can’t work out whether they want to hurt or help each other. They actually behave more like shy young lovers than like monsters.

Music, throughout, is used in ironic and playful fashion. The upbeat theme song over the credits makes the film seem like a 1970s cop series.

Piercing doesn’t last long (only 80 minutes or so) and you sense that its writer-director is struggling to stretch the story to feature length. To eke matters out, he throws in nightmarish flashbacks to Reed’s childhood and strange, surrealistic shots of reptiles clambering out of lavatories. The real originality here, though, is that he is using elements normally found in only the most twisted and depraved exploitation pictures to make a light screwball comedy. The result is a film that is far more accessible and entertaining than its storyline would lead you to expect.

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