FANTASIA – PIERCING your eyeballs with my pick for best Fantasia flick this year!


DIRECTOR: Nicolas Pesce
WRITER: Nicolas Pesce (based on the novel by Ryu Murakami)
CAST: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska

A loving, but troubled, husband / new father goes on a carefully planned, out-of-town “business trip” to murder an escort… but pretty soon things go awry when the sexworker derails his plans! PIERCING, is a brand new darkly funny, yet deeply disturbing, film that has something for every fan of the macabre.

Every now and then a new horror flick comes along that makes you so very happy to be a fan of the genre. NICOLAS PESCE’S PIERCING is one of those films. It’s becoming one of my favourite genre films, and probably the best film at this year’s Fantasia Fest.

PESCE first came to my attention with THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, a gorgeous and horrifying black & white film about extremely dark subject matter. I couldn’t wait to see his follow-up. Having just seen the Canadian premiere of PIERCING, it’s safe to say that PESCE is probably my new favourite director.

PIERCING is based on the book by RYU MURAKAMI (author of AUDITION, which was beautifully adapted in all its shocking glory by TAKASHI MIIKE). Like EYES, it’s another film with dark themes, but this one was shot in bright & vivid colour and inserts some very clever dark humour into its veins. It’s as far from EYES as you can get, but it does share its brutality.

On the surface it’s a story of a man attempting to fill dark urges, but on the inside is a much deeper tale about abuse, self harm and what that does to one’s psyche. On a whole it’s about flipping the script on a popular genre, with a bit of BDSM thrown in for good measure. The tropes are all there. It’s what PESCE does to them that makes this film work so incredibly well.

Anytime a film opens with a shot of an icepick aimed at a a baby’s head, you know it’s going to be a fun ride. From there, the film just goes down a dark path, occasionally even taking us right into a killer’s mind. Here, we see his hallucinations and occasional flashbacks and horrific nightmare fuel.

CHRISTOPHER ABBOT (HBO’S GIRLS) plays Reed, the troubled man with murderous impulses, and ABBOT does so in such a perfect manner. There are times you loathe him, times you feel bad for him, but there are other times you can’t help but laugh at his utter awkwardness. He keeps this balance of intensity and haplessness throughout the film.

We see him meticulously plot the murder in a hilarious scene where he walks himself through the dirty deed, complete with acting out the aftermath and the cleanup. Everytime we see him mime out the horrific actions we actually HEAR what it would sound like. It’s ridiculously funny (and eerie) to see someone stab the air, in total earnest, with an imaginary knife… yet hear the excruciating squishy sounds of stabbage and blood splatter.

Reed has everything perfectly scheduled, and written down. He has the exact details and the exact timing, even factoring in how long it takes to chloroform someone — he tested it himself!

MIA WASIKOWSKA (ALICE IN WONDERLAND, CRIMSON PEAK) plays Jackie, his hired victim, the escort. She does so with such finesse that she not only captures that look of a troubled past and desperation, but also the savvy intelligence and a hint of mystery. She is no damsel in distress, yet she’s also a very different horror film heroine.

Jackie’s immediately likeable, totally unpredictable and very surprising. You’re not entirely sure where she’s going at first, but every result is so satisfying and so perfect. It’s a standout performance that covers a wide range of feels. Jackie is just as complex as Reed, if not moreso.

When the two meet up it’s wonderfully magical and utterly awkward. The tension is high and the moments of brilliance are all on display. I haven’t uncomfortably laughed and winced in the span of minutes in a long while. It just builds and builds until they hit a moment that’s very shocking and very wtf… and that’s where the fun really begins and goes completely off course.

PIERCING looks stunning on a big screen and has a timeless quality to it. You can’t quite pinpoint the era, there’s no sign of smartphones or other tech dating it, but it definitely at times looks and feels like a 70s Italian Giallo film, complete with an epic and kick-ass soundtrack featuring some of the best Italian film scores ranging from ENNIO MORRICONE to GOBLIN.

In addition to the love letter to Giallo, this film also thrives on tripped-out, hallucinatory, nightmare fuel visuals for various tripped-out and hallucinatory moments. At times it feels like MARJANE SATRAPI’S quirky THE VOICES, but other times it channels a weird and surreal cross between HP LOVECRAFT and shocking NINE INCH NAILS videos. There’s a lot of fucked up stuff going on in this film.

There’s also stylistic beauty. There’s grand tracking shots of colourful and swanky high rise complexes. There’s bright yellow credit sequences with lounge jazz and bossa nova blaring in the background. There’s an absolutely perfect use of the split screen to create tension. There’s so much going on, and yet it’s a very self contained setting. There isn’t much location jumping and that works so well in context of everything.

PIERCING is full of style and is a total treat for your eyeholes and earballs. I can go at length on the brilliance and symbolism of Jackie’s leather gloves, or other classic nods to older films, but suffice to say this film is very aware of what came before, and it pays great hommage that also rewards diehard genre enthusiasts.

Fans of the book have also been pleased with how loyal this film is, while also expanding and bettering certain moments. PESCE doesn’t shy away and really makes this complex book work on the screen and makes it extremely visually interesting.

I can’t get over how much I love about this thriller. Every frame. Every moment. Every bit of clever dialogue. Every bit of acting. Every gory moment. There’s something here for everyone. It’s the kind of film where repeated views just makes everything even better, and I can’t wait to see it again.

Often very bizarre, very disturbing, very clever, and very funny (in a sick and twisted way), PIERCING, a very slick and sick flick, is my pick for best of the fest.

PIERCING will be playing for one final showing, on Fantasia’s last day, Thursday, August 2nd at 12:45pm.

Get tickets while you can!



About Author /

When Theo isn't drawing weirdo art he's watching Films. Theo likes films. Theo likes all kinds of films. Sometimes we even get a coherent review out of him. Sometimes. Read his yearly coverage of the Fantasia Festival and you’ll see what we’re talking about.

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