Nicolas Pesce Pushes An Edgy Point Through Horror With Cinema Influence and Modern Creativity in ‘Piercing’ [Interview]
Style. Inspiration. Ambition. Originality. Relevant. The requirements filmmakers must meet to please even the most amenable of horror genre fans forces stringent measures on the individual rubrics placed on them that ultimate success becomes more difficult to attain by the year. Adapting prior published material comes with its own set of uniquely particular criteria. Upcoming artists are constantly up to the challenge of critique and constantly held against the rank of greatness, so it takes some extreme talent to skyrocket your projects to the top of cinema buzz like that of Nicolas Pesce. To call Nicolas Pesce a newcomer seems inappropriate as instant notoriety for his Netflix debut, The Eyes Of My Mother, and his magnificent execution of a Murakami adaptation, Piercing, has quickly branded him as a favorite within the genre.
I am always skeptical when it comes to novel adaptations. It’s not a wild notion to hold that dangerously heavy content created by Ryu Murakami is almost untouchable, especially with the praise of Tikashi Miike’s adaptation of Audition. The Eyes Of My Mother already solidified my position as a Pesce fan, but seeing Piercing not only portray the content with expertise as well as Pesce’s influential application tethered to his own individual, original creativity exceeded my level of expectation. His knack for combining elements of substance and artful interpretation is exactly what elite films of the genre need right now. Pesce further shocked me as I discussed his work with him in person. Talking with him surprisingly shocked me as it was amazing to hear how down to earth he is and how casually confident he was to share his knowledge and love for film. He is a horror fan through and through. He is one of us, a trick he turns into an enjoyable, technique in developing his own edgy film style.
Read what Pesce has to say about the development of this story, his unique production mechanics, and what he has in store for fans new and old as he takes on a Grudge franchise installation.
Piercing is worthy of your time and psyche. It is a permanent bar driven through the flesh of elevated horror with a very capable modifier, installer, and artist, Nicolas Pesce, in control of where the pointed end goes.
Piercing is full of some really heavy subject matter. What was your approach to tackling material that dark?
I wanted to approach it with the classic way these types of movies play on a sort of fun, yet really dark vibe. Vietnamese filmmakers are really good it. South Korean filmmakers are really good at it too, like Park Chan-wook and Bae Chang-ho. It’s this like weird, dark playfulness to kind of cut through the brutality of it, but still make an interesting commentary on it. And that was all baked into the book and and part of what drew me so much to it.
I enjoy it. I like that cute playfulness cut with the dark, kind of scary, really edgy side of it. Something that you know they do so well. Now as far as you go, as a director, I felt like when I was watching Piercing I got like a mix of like David Lynch and some giallo in like a retro noir. It was like Tarantino-esque, but then it wasn’t like at all.
Yeah. I mean you’re right on the money.
Great! I can usually pick out inspiration out pretty well, but I wanted to ask you if there were any specific films or filmmakers that influence you while making Piercing.
I think that the Tarantino-ness of it definitely comes from knowing there’s not a ton of filmmakers who are are riffing so heavily on movies of the past. I think that’s something that I very much feel from Tarantino. Like David Lynch by way of giallo is me in a nutshell, like who I am as a person. And I think that I will never get away from David Lynch. I have David Lynch tattooed all over me.
I think as far as the giallo stuff goes, I think it’s weird to me how under seen giallo movies are and how a lot of people don’t even know what giallo is. I think now people are starting to have a better awareness of it because of the Suspiria, the new one. Argento made better movies than Suspiria and Argento movies don’t even look like that. I think that people think that giallo means like Nicolas Winding Refn with blue and pink lighting and it’s not. It’s like “Argento just did that for one movie”. But it’s way more about this kind of like heavy, heavy emphasis on design, these like really pulpy crime stories, these character archetypes. So, to me, I love Luigi Bazzoni, he’s a definitely under-appreciated giallo guy like The Fifth Cord and Footprints On The Moon and then I love the big ones like Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci and Sergio Martino. I love All The Colors Of The Dark and Bay Of Blood. Then you get all the fashion design ones like Death Walks In High Heels, that one’s great. They all borrow these awesome elements from each other and it’s kind of like there’s a bag of tricks that you can pull out from, for all the fans of that stuff.
“… you have to go in with a plan or else the camera’s going to end up in the same two spots for everything that you shoot. It’s really figuring out the blocking of what the actors are going to do, but also where the camera’s going to go and how and figuring out how we keep the space fresh so that you’re not bored.”
Piercing becomes like a bucket of inside jokes and that’s fun. And for other people who don’t know these movies, it’s part of the reason why I just straight up used the scores. I want people to be like, “What is that music? That’s awesome!” and then they go and tell someone “Go watch Tenebrae“. Tenebrae and Deep Red may be Argentina’s best movies. Go watch those. I think that part of it is I’m a movie fan, first and foremost. I love movies and my love of movies comes out on screen. But it’s also an active choice to be able to be here and talk about the films that I love and the filmmakers that I love that people may not have as much of an awareness of.
So well said. It comes through in your work, you can see it. I think that’s how people who love film, like myself, we can identify with people who are like that. You know, it’s easy to see where you draw inspiration and where you make it your own. You’re setting your own path here, you can see you have your own style, but you also have the right inspiration and I think that’s a really cool.
Well, thank you.
Now, I did read somewhere that you used miniatures to map out your scene. I think that’s completely brilliant. I don’t know if that’s a common practice for directors, is it?
It was born out of not having enough money to get to do storyboards. I’m someone who meticulously plans their movies. So with my first movie, it was all in that one house, though when we were in prep I just mean the DP shot the whole movie in stills with a still camera with stand-ins so that we could map out the whole movie, cut it, put music to it and just see how it all felt. With Piercing though, it was tricky because we did it all on sets and the sets weren’t built yet, but the production designer had designed them so I built miniatures of all the sets out of foam core and literally with Barbie dolls I blocked out the whole movie and shot every shot with a still camera and then you know recorded the actors doing the dialogue, put music on it, cut the whole thing, and basically like made the movie before we made the movie so that I could show the crew, not the actors, but show the crew like what I had in my head, but also for me to kind of have an opportunity to see what worked and what didn’t work and do a trial run on the whole movie before we ever had to make it.
“David Lynch by way of giallo is me in a nutshell, like who I am as a person.”
That sound incredibly efficient and the precision is obvious just by watching it. That’s amazing. That’s really cool. Did it help you with figuring out the angles and the perspectives because you got a lot of that going on in Piercing. I think that all makes it an extra fun ride.
Yes. So much of it is geometry and math of where you put the camera, especially when, you know the second half of the movie takes place entirely in Jackie’s one room apartment, you have to go in with a plan or else the camera’s going to end up in the same two spots for everything that you shoot. It’s really figuring out the blocking of what the actors are going to do, but also where the camera’s going to go and how and figuring out how we keep the space fresh so that you’re not bored. It is something that you really have to map out super intricately and it doesn’t just work the way it does in your head. It never does. So, seeing which parts aren’t going to work is tremendously helpful.
That’s brilliant work. You did such a good job because it is just one room for a majority of the film, but it’s so multi-dimensional with all those different angles. I admire that, it’s awesome.
Obviously everybody is really excited for your Grudge addition to that little anthology of The Grudge universe. You’ve got Lin Shaye attached to that.
Yeah! That was really cool.
She’s the godmother of horror.
Yes, Lin is awesome.
“I think that part of it is I’m a movie fan, first and foremost. I love movies and my love of movies comes out on screen.”
I know you probably can’t say much, but are there any details on what’s going, on where that’s at?
Yeah I mean we are editing the movie now and it’s a very different. It’s a very different Grudge. There’s 12 Grudge movies that exist and they feel all, more or less, cut from a similar cloth. I think we felt like it was time to kind of do something new with it. I think horror audiences are hungry for something different than they were when the first round of Grudge movies came out. You know we’re in a way more, I call it like “ordinary people”, but, with scares, it’s like a wave of family drama, character-driven climate of horror that I think is being welcomed by the audience.
I think that looking back on the Grudge franchise that is so loved by fans and and has such a long legacy deserves an update tonally and emotionally to kind of bring us to where we are now. We have a phenomenal cast and the movie looks and feels different, but I think it’s going to be something exciting for the fans of the old movies, but also for a new audience and new horror fans.
Whether you’re a fan of the darkly humorous novels by Murakami, want to see what kind of new muscles Pesce can flex, or you’re just looking looking for something new, thrilling, and visually appealing, Piercing is worthy of your time and psyche. It is a permanent bar driven through the flesh of elevated horror with a very capable modifier, installer, and artist, Nicolas Pesce, in control of where the pointed end goes.