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by Jay Seaver

"Crazy but, unfortunately, not unhinged."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It does not particularly surprise me to see that this comes from a novel by Ryu Murakami, the same author who provided the source material for "Audition". One can see a lot of the same DNA that went into that here, though expressed in a garish, colorful manner that's fun to watch in the moment but which never comes together into much more than screenwriter/director Nicolas Pesce showing us just how much affection he has for film and the genre.

Reed (Christopher Abbott) and Mona (Laia Costa) are new parents, which is an exhausting state to be in, and you might not be surprised to find out that Reed is anticipating an upcoming business trip just a little bit. The trouble is, he seems to have snapped - the baby has looked at him and said "you know what you have to do". He's got to sacrifice a prostitute, and one who speaks English so that he can't shut her suffering out. He's already called an escort service for the second night in the hotel, but when he decides he wants to get it over with a night early, the service sends him Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), who is groggy, detached, and not really what he had planned for at all.

There may, someday, be more promising casting for this sort of material than "Mia Wasikowska as a young woman who is more/other than what she seems", but not at the present time. She is, as usual, an exceptional pleasure to watch, playing up Jackie's muted, possibly depressed exterior like it's a thick garment that even her more shockingly unstable moments don't entirely pierce. She never entirely drops a sex worker's reticence to reveal her whole self, which makes the violence that eventually emerges more fascinating - the audience is never quite sure whether it's a reaction or something that was there all along.

Jackie's entrance is just what the movie needs for Christopher Abbott's performance as Reed to start working. The audience knows from the start that he's insane (especially if you posit that actually being taunted by a demon would drive a person to that state), but interacting with Jackie lets it become a strangely sane kind of mania: As good as his early nervousness is, it's his panicked and confused being pulled between multiple impulses that lets a viewer sort of see where he's coming from, even if the situation itself is impossible and makes no sense.

The question is, how much sense should it make? Without even a hidden firm foundation, this movie plays out like a double-twisted set-up that didn't really have anywhere to go once the second twist came up. It feels like it should, but even the seemingly clear motivations become fuzzy once Reed's hallucinations expand beyond his new parenthood, and there's not any particular sort of suspense or irony as things happen. There's a big hole where the "why" is supposed to be that a couple of intriguingly enigmatic performances can't entirely fill. It's a daring but ultimately disappointing reversal from Pesce, whose previous film The Eyes of My Mother so effectively put viewers into its killer's head.

It looks and sounds gorgeous, though, and in a way that is also an almost complete change from the stark Eyes. Its carefully realized 70s/80s aesthetic is garish but dilapidated, seeming to exist more outside of time than in any specific period (it lets him be canny in how phones are used, too, not just eliminating mobiles as a lifeline but as something that can cut into and redirect a situation). The city is realized with impressively detailed miniature work that invites study while not completely removing things from reality, and there are some occasional loopy visual effects. The soundtrack that lifts from a bunch of giallo classics is a blast, although the "sweet song over nasty action" selections seem more in love with the idea than specific clever executions.

That feeling comes a lot, like Pesce knows the impression he wants to make and isn't particular about how he does so. Takashi Miike is thanked in the credits, and "Piercing" does often feel like something trying to make a Miike film, but it never quite taps into the same sort of mad genius

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originally posted: 09/10/18 02:20:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2018 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 AFI Fest For more in the 2018 AFI Fest series, click here.

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  07-Dec-2018 (R)
  DVD: 12-Mar-2019


  DVD: 12-Mar-2019

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