Credit: Universal Pictures Content Group

Clocking in at a lean and very mean 81 minutes, writer-director Nicolas Pesce’s follow-up to his grim 2016 black-and-white arthouse chiller The Eyes of My Mother is a sick-joke psychological cat-and-mouse game with just enough twists to keep you on your toes.

Based on a novel by Ryu Murakami, best known stateside for providing the jolting and revolting source material for the creepy 1999 Japanese import Audition, Piercing stars Christopher Abbott (Girls) as an unhinged father-to-be who needs to exorcise his psycho-killer childhood demons before he can settle into his new role as a dad.

Fueled by an intoxicating score of melodramatic selections recycled from landmark ‘70s Italian giallo flicks (Dario Argento’s Deep Red, Emilio Miraglia’s The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, etc.), Pesce’s film has style and atmosphere to burn, even if that style and atmosphere are cribbed from better films and takes a while to get going.

Abbott’s Reed checks into a hotel with the intention of murdering and dismembering a prostitute with the hope of getting his bloodlust out of his system. But from the moment his target arrives (Mia Wasikowska in a blonde Dutch Boy bob and a vaguely continental accent), nothing goes quite as planned. As the tables are quickly turned, Reed finds himself to be the prey rather than the predator.

Both actors are solid at keeping you guessing with their psycho-sexual chess moves. But Pesce, who wants Piercing to be a kinky, S&M riff on two-handed parlor games like Sleuth, can’t muster a story to match his film’s twisted, black-humor vibe. It’s a decent enough exercise in provocation that’s weird enough that it may wind up finding a cult audience. Even if that audience walks out more interested in what the filmmaker has up his sleeve next than in what they just saw. B-

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