*. Close. There’s certainly stuff to like here. But in the end it’s a movie that comes up short.
*. If The Eyes of My Mother, Nicolas Pesce’s first film, was a brutal amalgamation of American gothic and J-horror, Piercing takes the latter back to its source (a novel by Audition author Ryu Murakami that features another female predator turning the gender tables) and crossbreeds it with a dash of vintage Cronenberg or Lynch.
*. I say vintage because, judging from the soundtrack, the style of the opening credits, and even that very smart yellow phone (a famous model of Yugoslavian design from back in the day), we seem to be stuck in a fantasy version of the 1970s. That may, in turn, be some advance on The Eyes of My Mother, which took place in an inexact but possibly even more remote place and time. It’s hard to say which film seems less real.
*. I’ve talked before about those wonderful warnings that come with a film’s rating. Here we get “Aberrant violent and sexual content.” I like that use of “aberrant.”
*. I guess Mia Wasikowska has turned into weird cinema’s it girl. At least everything I’ve seen her in has been pretty weird. I like her, but at this point I’m wondering how well she plays straight (not meaning that in a sexual way).
*. Where does Piercing fall short? The ambiguity in the psychosexual see-saw between Reed (Christopher Abbot) and Jackie (Wasikowska) ends up being frustrating. At some point I think the film had to be clearer about how much she’s “on to him.” Then there are the dreams/visions. These seem like too much of an excuse for Pesce to throw more weird stuff at us. I don’t think they round Reed out as a character at all.
*. What I really enjoyed were the suggestions that it’s not Reed who’s the crazy one, but his world that’s gone nuts. Apparently everyone (his wife, the hotel manager) is “on to him.” Making him into even more of a sap. In a world of female predators I guess men are bound to be prey.
*. A good little movie, both aberrant and restrained, but for one that hangs its hat on being idiosyncratic and weird I thought it needed to be more provocative or shocking in some way. Not more violent, but stranger. Or that Pesce needed to find his own voice. There’s too much here that feels derived from other directors. I get that it’s hard to stand out in today’s movie marketplace, where even the twenty-first century version of Something Wild is starting to seem like the road more travelled by. But maybe the answer is to try something a little more traditional.