Piercing [Fantastic Fest 2018]

Jeeeeeesus. Nicolas Pesce’s new film Piercing accomplishes that rare feat of being a movie I both enjoyed and simultaneously never want to see again. The film is tight, both in terms of runtime and tension, and Pesce steers us through a dreamlike world of New York highrises, hotel rooms and hallucinations towards a finale that is…subject to debate.

Reed (Christopher Abbot), a young architect, bids his wife and newborn child good bye as he leaves for a business trip to New York, promising to return in a couple of days. But this is no business trip, or at least, not the traditional kind. See, Reed wants to kill someone. Specifically, a prostitute. Even more specifically, he has a detailed plan on how he will do it, complete with a murder kit packed into his bags, containing restraints, drugs, a ball gag and an ice pick. Everything is going to plan until he meets Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), his intended victim, when she arrives at his hotel room.

It becomes rapidly clear that Jackie is not anything like Reed expected, and has complicated plans of her own. As the night unfolds and unfolds and unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that not only can Reed not predict Jackie’s next move, he cannot be trusted to tell the difference between what is real and what is fantasy.

So, to begin with – Mia Wasikowska is fantastic, as always. The character of Jackie radiates a perilous fragility, and from moment to moment, it is impossible to predict what she is going to do next, for either Reed or the audience. Christopher Abbot’s Reed, on the other hand, goes from smoothly polished professional to wild-eyed maniac as his world becomes increasingly hallucinatory.

Speaking of hallucinatory imagery, Pesce crafts several genuinely disturbing scenes as we watch Reed’s fantasy play out in a very unexpected fashion. Set against a backdrop of exceedingly mid-century wallpapered hotel rooms and apartments in a New York that hardly ever descends into the streets, the movie feels like a really, really bad fever dream for most of its run time, a dream of sex, death and despoilment. And by the end, we get the feeling that perhaps both Reed and Jackie will find the fulfillment of their desires by the end of their night together. For better or for worse.

I have little in the way of criticism for this movie. Pesce is a talent, and he deserves every accolade – the worst I can say about the movie is that it pushed me out of my comfort zone several times, and that, in my opinion, is no failing at all. If you have the stomach for it, and want to see a vision of ritzy New York highrise life get very, very messy over a wild, weird night, then this is the movie for you.

Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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