Piercing is an odd little film. It clocks in at a sprightly 82 minutes and is a strange beast in terms of horror cinema. We get a lot films about serial killers and their origins but this is something that is a little different in terms of its narrative construction. It’s tone and the performances of the leads.
Reed (Christopher Abbot) is getting ready to travel to the city for a convention. All seems normal in his preparation until his infant child ‘speaks’ to him urging him to satisfy his obsession with murdering someone by piercing their flesh with an ice pick. It soon becomes clear that he has meticulously planned the whole event both in his head and on the pages of his notebook. He hires a call girl (Mia Wasakowski) under the ruse of an S&M encounter but really to satisfy his blood lust. Plans go awry when the girl turns out to be more disturbed than him. Any hope of his satisfaction being met goes out the window as the night turns into something very different to the original intention.
The film has some delightful set pieces that make it stand out. The most noteworthy takes place as he fantasises about the murder he is going to undertake. He walks through the entire encounter from the point that the girl enters his room. His plan is meticulous and he acts it out down to the end. As he practices the various parts of plan there are sound effects added that he is hearing in his own head. Sawing, dripping blood and the slap of severed limbs on the bathroom floor are a clever touch allowing the audience to enter the mind of the man.
The world building shows an example of taking the familiar and twisting it in a certain way. Much of what we see it expected but it has just enough of a twist to stand out as uncomfortably odd. The rooms we see have no televisions and the phones are all old dial or button style models with tape driven answering machines. A t no point do we see a mobile or high tech device. The rooms are very elegantly designed and the music is provided by vinyl records. It feels like a very defined and detached environment. This could be because everything we see is actually a figment of the man’s imagination and the whole thing is his fantasy.
Mia Wasakowski gives a really compelling performance as the call girl with more problems than answers. She is crazy but just on the right side of normal to be an interesting character. The part is played without fuss or histrionics as an over the top portrayal would have felt forced and not being consistent with the other character or the story in general. The way the story is constructed her character is in charge for specified periods. Other times she has to cede control which means that she can take a rest from the craziness and show off the other side of the girl, someone that needs help but is loath to acknowledge it.
The back and forth between the leads keeps the audience on its toes. Just as you are starting to get a feel for how the story is going to go it gets flipped and a whole set of possibilities are presented. This plays into the S&M theme as well. Control is only a construction for as long as you hold the upper hand. As soon as it changes it’s a whole different game.