Tag Archives: Nicolas Pesce

CAPSULE: PIERCING (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Nicolas Pesce

FEATURING: , , Laia Costa

PLOT: Reed has a good job, a loving wife, a cherished newborn daughter, hallucinations, and a (hopefully satiable) lust to kill; he checks into a hotel planning to get his bloodlust out of his system by murdering a call girl, but the woman who arrives may be more than a match for him.

Still from Piercing (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s slick and sick, but plays like a milder version of a film that already made the List.

COMMENTS: Piercing will play better if you’ve never seen Audition, but if you have seen the older film, you may find that the newer one suffers (hee hee) by comparison to its sadistic sister. Piercing is adapted from ‘s 1994 novel of the same name. The author reworked the same general sadomasochistic theme three years later for “Ôdishon.” In doing so, Murakami improved the scenario by making the male protagonist more sympathetic and the female antagonist more mysterious. That’s not to say Piercing is unworthy of your time, or that you will always know exactly where it’s heading, but Audition initiates should prepared for a little bit of a disappointment.

Director Nicolas Pesce explored similarly dark territory in his debut, The Eyes of My Mother, which he shot in rustic and minimalistic grayscale. Here, he goes for a much richer stylistic palette, with a Technicolor style showcasing deep reds and mahogany wood paneling. The opening, in fact, puts us in mind of Rear Window, with the camera panning over an artificial mosaic of skyscrapers, inside whose windows we can imagine individual dramas playing out. Hitchcock, of course, would never have added an infant girl who tells daddy “you know what you have to do” in a creepy baritone.

Pesce creates a genteel atmosphere—a world where men put on ties to meet call girls, hookers wear stocking and fur coats, everyone drinks their spirits on the rocks before getting down to business, and guys use embroidered silk handkerchiefs to douse their dates with choloroform. The soundtrack is a selection of smooth and sophisticated pop, including “The Girl from Impanema” and needle drops from classic gialli like Profondo Rosso; even the most cloying number, the mellow folk-rocker “Bluer than Blue,” is given the best possible treatment. The hotel room and apartment interiors all look like 60s penthouse bachelor pads, with sunken living rooms and dramatic wall-mounted half-moon sconces, very mid-century modern. All the elegant trappings of civilization, of course, only serve to disguise the depravity and barbarism squirming inside the characters’ souls.

Abbott and Wasikowski are perfectly cast. He is superficially suave, but constantly bumbling as he hides his guilty secret; Wasikowski, keeping her natural Australian accent, is a psychotic pixie dream girl who lets on very quickly that she’s not quite all there. They are a perfect match. In terms of gruesomeness, Pesce doesn’t go quite as far as would, but he is willing to go quite a ways, and you should find yourself squirming often. Abbott’s casual hallucinations—he constantly carries on conversations with people who encourage him to carry out his secret murderous plan—keep things interesting, and cast doubt on Wasikowski’s character. Is she really as depraved as he is, or is it just his projection of her as a willing victim/collaborator in his elaborate fantasy? A grotesque dream sequence (scored to the aforementioned soft-rock hit) also mirrors the surrealistic excursion of Audition, and although it is put in service of revealing backstory, there are still some tremendously eerie moments here, with a scorpion-bug monster scurrying from out of a toilet to harass our paralyzed protagonist.

For an evening of dangerous fun, refined sickos could do a lot worse than Piercing. Pesce reaffirms his talent while broadening his range. He’s come close to a breakthrough weird movie with his first two films; his next project is a remake of Ju-on [The Grudge], after which we’re hoping he will be able to come through with something that will really blow our socks off.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The movie gains momentum as it indulges in hallucinogenic phantasmagoria.”–Glenn Kenny, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/18/2016 (THE EYES OF MY MOTHER & THE WAILING)

Still from The Eyes of My Mother (2016)My first screening of my second day at Fantasia was The Eyes of My Mother, ‘s black and white horror/art film that made a minor splash at Sundance in the NEXT category. The SGWU Hall was about half full for this one (which still means a couple of hundred folks attended). The title is suggested by the fact that our anti-heroine Francisca’s mother was an eye surgeon in her native Portugal, before immigrating to the U.S. to live on an isolated farm. Mom is an Un Chien Andalou-style homeschooler who slices open cow eyeballs to demonstrate ocular anatomy, setting up Francisca’s future lack of squeamishness about physical mutilation. Francisca is devoted to her mother, while papa, by contrast, is what is euphemistically called “distant.” Knowing only her parents, the girl loses half of her socialization opportunities when mother dies in a gruesome fashion while Francisca is still a tyke. This event sends her already stoic father into a state of near catatonic depression, and sets up Francisca’s lifelong quest for companionship that goes horribly wrong in ways that I won’t spoil here. Although Mother is packed with grisly sequences—a couple of scenes had the jaded horror crowd squirming in their seats—overall it is more of a psychological character study than a horror show. Kika Magalhaes holds down the fort as the adult Francisca, lonely and deranged, and the script makes her as sympathetic as possible; her lack of human empathy is understandable, given the odd, near-feral circumstances of her childhood. Bleak as hell, both in its subject and its visuals, Mother unspools in a non-specific, grayscale, timeless rural void. The soundtrack mixing Portuguese fado with old-timey country death ballads ensures we won’t mistake the film’s style for anything contemporary or accessible.

Those who love Eyes of My Mother are going to defend it as a beautiful nightmare, but commercially it’s a hard sell, and may not get enough distribution to find a following. This is a movie that falls between audiences: it’s too slow and somber for the average horror fan, but too gruesome and disturbing for all but the most adventurous of art-house patrons. For our purposes, it’s not weird; it is, in fact, all too realistic—not a stylistic flaw, but a fact that puts it on the periphery of this site’s circle of interest.

Mother was preceded by the short “Agravoy,” an impressionistic, subjective story of an unkempt stranger who spies on the romantic trysts of two apartment-dwellers through a series of peepholes. The sound design is intense and director Jacob Nizzola has promise, with an eye (and ear) for weirdness. He’s someone to look out for.

Just like at yesterday’s screening of As the Gods Will, I arrived late to the lineup for The Wailing—which wasn’t a pre screening sell-out, but Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/18/2016 (THE EYES OF MY MOTHER & THE WAILING)