A father brandishing an icepick over his infant girl is how “Piercing” opens, and by the time that icepick figures into this disturbed man’s hotel room plans for an unsuspecting young woman, you may have wished you’d established a safe word between you and Nicolas Pesce’s kitschy, harrowing and coolly perverse film.
Adapting a novel from outre Japanese author Ryu Murakami (“Audition”), Pesce deploys a potent arsenal of stylistic tools — urban landscape miniatures, plushly disquieting Lynchian interiors, flashbacks, creature effects, and florid gore — to tell the story of Reed (Christopher Abbott), a mild-mannered psycho who painstakingly arranges the murder of a prostitute on a trip away from his wife (Laia Costa) and newborn. But Jackie (Mia Wasikowska) is no ready-made victim, and in a strange cat-and-mouse game of empathy, violence, and deception, this oddball couple turn sadomasochism into something resembling a waltz for the wounded.
“Piercing” is decidedly not for everybody, but it somehow avoids exploitative luridness, thanks in part to the peculiar aura of uneasy innocence that Abbott and Wasikowska create around their roles (which are really more constructs than characters). Perhaps the most exhilarating element to Pesce’s aesthetic is his propulsive deployment of soundtrack snatches from Italian giallo composers of the ‘70s, including Bruno Nicolai (from his score for “The Red Queen Kills Seven Times”) and Dario Argento’s band Goblin (from “Deep Red”). The music choices are the real killer in “Piercing.”
Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes
Rated: R for aberrant violent and sexual content, nudity and language