'Piercing' Is Director Nicholas Pesce's Humorous Horror Triumph
Director Nicholas Pesce knows how to make you squirm.
In his beautifully shot, black-and-white horror film, The Eyes of My Mother, he scared the snowflakes of Sundance Film Festival audiences by bringing to life an American Gothic masterpiece. A pretty bold move for a first time director. How does your follow up film not suffer death by expectation when your first film is being heralded as a new horror classic?
You make a comedy.
A pretty dark, gore-rrific comedy surrounding S&M entitled Piercing, to be precise. Inspired by the novel by Ryû Murakami, author of the ultra-violent, cinematic thriller Audition, the film follows a new father, played by Christopher Abbott (Girls, It Comes At Night) who finds that the best way to fight his urge to stab his daughter with an ice pick is to try and kill a prostitute inside a shitty motel. The problem with this psychopath’s perfectly crafted plan is that the prostitute that shows up might be just as deranged as he is, and the two begin a back and forth dance of control and power.
“The story deals with such interesting subject matter that’s interesting and dark, but does it in this bizarre, ‘fairytale’ sort of way,” Pesce explains to me right outside the Park City Library, where in a little under an hour his film will have it’s premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Huddled together with us in the midnight cold is Christopher and the film’s leading lady Mia Wasikowska as Pesce continues, “It’s a really dark film but still super playful, which I like, and was looking for so that I could do something different from my first film but still deal in some of the same sort of themes.”
Just like Eyes of My Mother, his new film is something to behold. Each shot feels like a remarkable still photographer and the movements feel tightly choreographed in order to build suspense. These elements of beauty only serves to make the gore that much more interesting and cringe worthy. The music feels bizarre and perfect all at once. Sleazy, softcore porn overtures the precede the hacking and jabbing and stabbing that is eloquently married to an award-worthy foley artist soundscape. All these things Pesce lays over the entrancing performances of the film’s two main stars.
The charisma between Wasikowska and Abbott as they power-play inside the tight quarters of a small motel room is worth the price of admission. Building on her roles in Stoker and Crimson Peak, Wasikowska has carved out a space for herself inside a dark and different section of cinema. As Jackie, Wasikowska shows the audience a side of herself that we have yet to see in her other roles. A side that’s more dangerous and less clean than the Wonderland she came from. This dark and disturbing role is made that much more disturbing by the actress’ porcelain doll-esque features.
“I didn’t have much time to think about the character before I came on to the film. I had about two weeks before shooting,” Wasakoska tells us as we begin to shuffle in out of the cold, “which was a sort of great way to approach this character – by not knowing hardly anything about her and just letting things happen. It was cool. It’s a character I hadn’t ever really got to play until now.”
Most important for the story telling of the film is all the things the two actors don’t say. The characters true intentions and feelings unfold throughout the film with a slight tilt of a smile or the slightest tilt of an eyebrow. This disregard for a poker face is what made Pesce want to cast both Abbott and Wasakowska for this film.
“They both emote so much with their faces. You can tell everything that they’re thinking by what’s on their face – which was perfect for this film because so much of what is being said in the dialogue is not what’s actually going on – so I needed actors who could carry a story just through their look and Chris and Mia are both so great at that.”
Abbott also has a very intense and restrained rage that he brings to his characters. This subdued rage can be seen very well in his recent critically-acclaimed film James White. Now, while playing a much different character, Abbott still finds power in what’s boiling underneath.
“He tries to stay organized. He tries to remain very put together. He tries to know what he’s doing, but it’s that desire for order that keeps turning everything into a mess. Which I think is where Jackie, Mia’s character, steps in,” Abbott tells us as we make our way into the theater.
“It’s such a cool story and I am a big fan of ‘Audition’ and this film is definitely in that world. What I really love about this film though is that it’s funny. It is! It’s got a lot of dark elements but it’s so tongue and cheek. So, to me, it’s a really fun, dark comedy. So I want audiences to not really know how to feel at first but in the end leave with a smile on their face.”
The lights go dark. The film is introduced. The blood bath begins. Hilarity ensues.
Featured image courtesy of Piercing
Stay tuned to Milk for more from the front lines of Sundance.