Piercing follows in the footsteps of Takashi Miike's masterpiece Audition. Not only does its source share Audition's author, it is almost as depraved and unpredictable. Like Audition, it presents a twisted, and often confusing parody of a couple. It is fascinated by the causes and effects of violence. And it has an uncanny, out-of-this-world setting.
The uncanniness of Piercing is much more overt than Audition's, though. Buildings are depicted as Thunderbirds-style, cheapo miniatures; Goblin's theme to Tenebre crops up out of nowhere; and synthetic dust and scratches mark the film's stock. These kitschy flourishes diminish Piercing's ability to disturb, but add a dark slapstick to its extreme violence. They also contrast some very grounded character work.
Our protagonist, Reed, is a schlubby, nervous dork at the threshold of enacting a long-term fantasy: commit a murder. The opening scenes of the film see him obsessively act out his imagined crime. It plays out like first-date jitters. What proves to scupper his plans is their enactment. Like most fantasies, it is destroyed by its actuality.
Mia Wasikowska is introduced as a character who we assume will become his victim — Jackie. But Piercing wastes no time in reframing her as his nemesis. She is belligerent and free-spirited, making demands which Reed dutifully meets. He obsessively checks his watch, and it’s clear his plans didn't account for a disobedient victim. Later, in Jackie's apartment, she disarms Reed by taking the opposite approach. Every sentence she speaks is a question, a sinister appeasement of Reed's toxic masculinity. Her apparent passivity disguises her strength. Like Audition's Asami, Jackie uses expectation to her advantage.
These role reversals and shifting power dynamics form the basis of the rest of the film. The archetypes of the 'nice guy' and 'good girl' are milked for all they have. Our characters both stretch out as close to self-annihilation as possible. Then they twang back as though attached to rubber bands. They perform a violent, destructive game of cat-and-mouse around each other. The balance of power between them is a mystifying and mercurial.
Piercing can't hold a candle to Audition. Unfortunately, it's so thematically similar that it's impossible to avoid comparing the two films. But it's a nonetheless a diverting, experimental and visually strong pulp horror. It has a wicked sense of humour, and a fantastic ending: the sort that makes you want to clap and roll your eyes at the same time.
Words by Andrew O’Keefe