Red Stewart chats with Piercing director Nicolas Pesce…
Nicolas Pesce is an American filmmaker who has been working in the film industry since the mid-2010s. He is known for his cinematic debut The Eyes of My Mother, which he wrote, directed, and edited. His latest movie was the Giallo-inspired horror comedy Piercing, which Flickering Myth had the chance to interview him about, and I in turn had the honor to conduct:
Ms. Pesce, thank you for taking the time to speak with me sir.
Completely, thank you so much.
Before we talk about this movie, I wanted to ask you a general question. One thing I’ve observed about horror directors is that, compared to other genre filmmakers, they tend to stay in the field of horror for some time before eventually branching out. James Wan, Adam Wingard, and Eli Roth all did that, and it seems to the same case with you. I’m wondering, what is the reason for devoting years of your early film life to staying in this field?
You know, I think, first and foremost, I love the genre. You get to play with a fun set of toys, like there is a certain toolbox that every genre comes with, and I just tend to play with the horror toolbox. But I also believe that part of the reason why a lot of us stay in it is there’s a set of underlying mechanics that make horror movies work: there’s a little bit of psychology, a little bit of math, just a little bit of comedic timing, and there’s a lot of these technical metrics almost to making a horror movie and making something scary and affecting.
I once heard Tarantino say, when asked why he was going to keep making westerns after he had done Django Unchained, “well I just figured out how to make a western, so I want to keep doing it so I can make them better.” And for me it’s like, each time I do it, I learn something about the genre that I want to implement next time.
For example, with The Eyes of My Mother, I had grown up watching 1950s-60s American Gothic horror movies, so that film was my love letter to what I grew up on. But the thing that I didn’t get to play with as much, that I realized I missed, was my weird dark sense of humor. And so with Piercing I wanted to do something that was dark and a similar subject matter to my first movie, but with a little bit more playfulness. And then, when I did that, afterwards I was like “you know, I’ve never actually done anything with jump scares, so let’s play with that type of scare.” And so Grudge came as an exercise in that.
There are many facets and, for me at least, there are so many different types of horror movies, so many different textures, so many different tools, that it’s like each movie presents a new opportunity to get to play with a different side of them. I do definitely want to make sci-fi and action movies and other genres. But you look at a guy like John Carpenter, who eventually made The Thing and Assault on Precinct 13, and I think that there’s a fondness for all genres, but for whatever reason horror just feels fun. And it’s also the subculture, like the horror community has a cool world in a way that I feel action movies don’t quite have.
That’s absolutely right. That was admittedly a broad question I asked, so thank you for narrowing it down to what you personally love, as well as the different subgenres. Piercing is very different from The Eyes of My Mother, so I get what you’re saying about exploring different conventions and tropes. From that, let’s talk about Piercing. First off, I just want to congratulate you on the critical success of it. It’s pretty rare for horror films to get high praise these days.
Now I apologize if you’ve been asked this before, but I have to know- was Eraserhead at all an influence on this movie?
Oh totally. I mean, I’m a massive David Lynch fan. I love him, he’s hands-down my favorite filmmaker. I have Twin Peaks tattoos all over my body. And I think that, with all of his films, but particularly with Eraserhead, he has such a handle on how to make the world feel unsettling and how to make the world feel long, and then anything that happens in there is imbued with that energy. He even finds a way to make the most normal stuff sinister, like in Eraserhead when they’re eating the chicken and the chickens are still moving and they’re oozing out black goo, it’s like he finds a way to make the most normal thing really really dark, and the world, consequently, feel wrong.
With Piercing, a big thing we wanted was for the world to feel off, like uncanny valley wrong. Almost real, but there’s something wrong with it. And that applies to the characters too: they look put together, but behind closed doors there is a lot of shit going on, and we wanted the world to reflect that as well.
So yeah, I’m always feeling for David Lynch.
Thank you for clarifying that. I definitely saw the influence, and had to know! Now, one of the things I personally loved about Piercing was the color palette. The best way to describe it is it reminded me a macabre version Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy because there are a lot of dark primary colors in the production and wardrobe design. This is a huge shift from your previous movie, The Eyes of My Mother, which was shot in black and white. Could you talk a little bit about the use of color in this film and the color palette?
Yeah, I was very inspired by Giallo films- Italian 70s thriller and horror movies. And a big thing with the look of those movies, particularly the interior design, is it’s very stylized. The worlds are heightened in how designy they are. Piercing gets more and more colorful the longer it goes. For instance, when the movie starts, we’re in Reed’s apartment and it’s all beige and kind of more bland; when we get to the hotel it’s mostly brown and grey with pockets of yellow and blue, and then, once we get to Jackie’s apartment, most of it is red.
And you know, it was about playing with the minimalism of color and choosing each location’s palette very specifically in order to use the color to affect the mood of the phases, all while shooting it like a film noir movie. I think that’s where the Dick Tracy-vibes come in. You’re basically shooting it like a Hitchcock film, but designing it as a fashion photo shoot, and that’s where a lot of the look derives from.
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