The second film from critically-lauded EYES OF MY MOTHER director Nicolas Pesce, PIERCING, is a unique psychological thriller that borrows conventions from giallo films to create its own stylish aesthetic. Using source material from Ryu Murakami, who wrote the novel Takashi Miike’s AUDITION was based on, Pesce fashions a similarly twisted plot involving a cat-and-mouse game between Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott. When a man checks into a hotel with plans to murder a prostitute, he soon finds out there are other plans in store for him, and it all unravels from there. Tense, colorful, and unpredictable, PIERCING is a pleasure to watch for genre fans. Daily Grindhouse got the chance to talk to writer & director Nicolas Pesce about the film.
Daily Grindhouse: What was it like adapting the material by Murakami?
Nicolas Pesce: I think that part of what drew me to Murakami’s work in the first place is that it reads like a movie. He’s got everything, down to he even writes in the present tense. From a technical standpoint, it’s very easy to adapt. From a reading perspective, I think the harder part was to adapt it directorially. Murkami comes at the material with a very specific point of view, and I’m a big believer that when it comes to adaptations, the source material always exists and it always is the thing that it is, and if i’m going to adapt it, I want to bring myself to it. So I tried to look at things that Murakami did that made sense to him, but tonally I could re-adapt for myself. For instance, the book is very much Murakami as a Japanese author poking fun at the Western psychosxual thriller. So like, things in the ‘90s like BASIC INSTINCT. For me, I wanted to poke fun at a very similar genre, which is giallo movies. Italian seventies movies that were very, very similar in tone, and I wanted to find my own cultural points of reference and making the references my own while keeping the chess match that Murakami builds that’s so unique with him. Keeping that and keeping the heart and spirit of the characters, but finding my own way stylistically with it.
Daily Grindhouse: How were you influenced by giallo films? Which specific ones influenced you?
Nicolas Pesce: It’s funny to me that people don’t know giallo movies. Like, I imagine that your readers do, which is awesome. And I think that people know SUSPIRIA, especially now because of the new movie, and they know Argento because of it. But Argento made better movies than SUSPIRIA, and most giallo movies don’t look like that. For me, I love Luigi Bazzoni and Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. I like Argento’s stuff like DEEP RED and TENEBRAE, the more crime-y stuff like THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. I love Sergio Martino. I think I already said Lucio Fulci, I like Lucio Fulci a lot. Part of the fun of getting to make referential movies like this is talking about those filmmakers. I discovered Murakami because of Takashi Miike, who made AUDITION, which is based on a Murakami book. And I discovered Miike because Tarantino talked about him. So I think it’s like a really fun aspect of making a movie like this, to get to talk about what historically inspired it, and to get to make either a movie full of inside jokes for other fans and movies that I’m a fan of, but also to open people’s eyes to a genre they may not know about.
Daily Grindhouse: You use a lot of visual effects, like the color palette and the split screen. How did you use these to enhance the story?
Nicolas Pesce: One of the cool things about the book that’s really hard to translate cinematically is what you have these two characters, going through the same things together, but they’re literally in such different worlds, and feeling such different perspectives on the same thing. I love Brian De Palma, and I love how brazenly he uses split-screen. It’s a really awesome technique for this movie to do what Murakami does in his book, showing two sides of the same thing, and the same scene from two different perspectives, at the same exact time, and juxtaposing different worlds, different characters, so it’s very much drawn from the book. As far as the color palette goes, we used a color palette that was in and of itself very specific. The apartment is very drab and very beige, not a lot of color, but when we get into the hotel, we see very specific colors, like all blue, yellow, and brown, and you start to almost see, the art on the walls is all Ellsworth Kelly, which is color-blocky, and we’re starting to introduce more bold colors, and once you get back to his apartment, it’s really red, super vibrant, everything is so rife with color. Once we get to the traffic light, it’s bright yellow, and it’s like the color palette very much tracks the chaos of the movie as it unravels.
Daily Grindhouse: What was it like following THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, a much different movie, with this movie?
Nicolas Pesce: It was a very intentional choice to make something very distinctly different. You know, Eyes is so specific and artsy and esoteric, and it’s very bleak and intense, and the one thing I didn’t get to showcase in that movie was my sense of humor, however dark it may be. I kept wanting to be more playful as a filmmaker, and I was actively trying to make something that was still dark and edgy, and something with similar concepts to what I dealt with in my first movie, but that felt like a total 180 in a different stylistic vision.
Daily Grindhouse: How did you balance the occasional violence in the movie with the thriller plot?
Nicolas Pesce: It’s a movie that threatens murder and violence and there’s very little of it. It’s contained to these very visceral, small moments, whether it’s the cuticle scissors or the can opener. There are these very intense violent moments with ordinary everyday objects that don’t actually do a lot of damage, but feel super-gory, and it was very interesting. Where with THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, it’s a very violent movie and we show none of the violence on-screen, PIERCING isn’t actually all that violent, but we used techniques to make it feel much more violent. The violence in PIERCING is not life-threatening, and like I said, it’s small and done with everyday objects, and there’s something about that that makes it all the more painful. I think that there’s a great Eli Roth quote where he says, “You don’t know what it feels like to get your head cut off, but you can imagine what it feels like to get your nail ripped out.” I think it’s so true. PIERCING was very much playing with violence that is way less “movie violence” and way more tangible to real life, and I think that was really interesting. It creates an interesting relationship with the audience for sure, and I think it’s something kind of fun to explore cinematically, especially after making a movie that is way more traditionally violent but also handles it in such a different way.
Daily Grindhouse: This movie has so many twists and turns. How did you manage all the plot twists in the story?
Nicolas Pesce: Fortunately, Murakami laid the road map very well for that. I think the thing I took from the book the most was this sort of chess game the characters play. I think the hardest thing is, the twists and turns are very subtle, and how do you do them in a cinematic, technically satisfying way. I think that depends on how good the actors are. If they can really sell the subtlety of these moments, and even if they’re not saying what’s going on in their heads, they let the audience in on it in an unspoken way that I think in a book is easy to do because you can be inside the character’s head and hear constant narration, whereas in a movie you don’t get to do that the same way. So you have to rely on these actors to transmit everything you need the audience to know with a lot more subtlety. So it’s a real challenge for the actors, but Chris and Mia were fantastic, and they really sold it.