Based on a novel by Ryu Murakami (not to be confused with Haruki Murakami, of 1Q84 fame) and directed by Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of my Mother, 2016), Piercing (2019) is a psychological thriller hinging on a night between Reed (Christopher Abbott) and Jackie (Mia Wasikowska). Ostensibly on a business trip, Reed leaves his family with a briefcase packed with tools for murder; to his mind, the cure to excise his impulse for violence is to carry out the deed. Jackie, a call girl, is not taken so easily, however, and the dynamic veers wildly between lasciviousness and outright violence.
This disorientation of the dynamics of this relationship play out in the sound design of the Green Band trailer. The ding of an elevator bell is outsized, calibrating our ears to be sensitive to the relative heaviness of Reed’s footsteps as he careens down the hotel hallway to ambush Jackie; Jackie’s cries are slightly muffled as we take the camera’s aural perspective down the long hallway, as the accolades appear – the logo marks for the Sundance film festival among others, appearing in stark contrast to Reed’s egregious act. We hear snapping as each logo appears, with seven in total.
The Universal Pictures studio card, and the synthesizer accompanying it, is decidedly retro. It’s the logo that Universal used from 1964 to 1990, and we hear an unclear voice emanating from a payphone. Both the aural and visual aesthetics presented point to the film’s throwback, 60s/70s aesthetic.
The ticking and the bell return at 0:32, establishing it as a motif. As one of many sound bridges, we hear the bell before as actually see Jackie get off the elevator. At 0:37 we see a striking synch point between a sawing sound and the hand motion Reed makes is a visceral presage to the violence that ensures. The ticking resumes again, this time with the melody (if you can call it this) moving up a minor third as the camera cuts a split second to Jackie. The crunching of bone and screaming at 0:45 juxtaposes Reed’s calm monologue.
The second half of the trailer, at 0:57, is marked by an intriguing pizzicato cello, with an ostinato along a minor chord. At 1:19 the critical appraisal text clicks in as Reed and Jackie stumble into a room, flicking the light switch.
An operatic voice enters the soundtrack in what will be revealed as an extended sound bridge. The piece, “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici,” is one of the Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi’s most famous duets. Taken from “La Traviata,” (“The Fallen Woman,” 1853) it’s a brindisi – a song whose liveliness is associated with celebration and drinking. This counterpoint between the audio and visuals, with Reed lying on the floor, audibly aching as this music plays, is richly ironic and palpably Tarantino-esque. Things only get weirder when Jackie stops the record and we hear the record slow to a stop. “Oh God, I don’t like that one,” a man on a payphone quips. “I know that’s the worst,” a woman on the other end responds – a winking meta commentary on the proceedings as things get darker for Reed, the would-be hunter-come-hunted.
The final thirty seconds are jubilantly, quixotically twisted as it becomes clear drugs and their attendant hallucinogenic properties literally enter the picture; the chorus of the Verdi piece sweetly accompanies the promise of bloodshed. Note the perverse union of sound and image at 1:54 as we see Reed suffer, followed by a truly disorienting montage.
One more return of the ticking motif announces the main title card at 2:05, with some deep bass for good measure, the card subtly animated as one more teasing promise.
Piercing will be simultaneously related in theatres and on digital and disc on February 1st, 2019.
– Curtis Perry