Braid review Madeline Brewer Imogen Waterhouse Sarah Hay

Braid and Piercing are the perfect double feature. Each film locks us in with its characters and a nearly single-setting story. Both are about deeply embedded traumas and shifting balances of power. They also completely subvert their premises and toy with genre in ways that are fresh. These films are impeccably designed, with striking imagery and violent stories that make us wince. Though there’s a lot of crossover, they still maintain their own character and diverge in ways that compliment. Bottom line, directors Mitzi Peirone (Braid) and Nicolas Pesce (Piercing) are unrivaled voices to pay attention to, each satisfying perverse impulses with powerful subtext.

Braid grabs us right from the get. It begins with an unsuspecting drug bust that forces two budding dealers, Petula (Imogen Waterhouse) and Tilda (Sarah Hay) to flee their stash. After losing their supply, they find themselves in debt and on the run. With just forty-eight hours to recover their losses, they decide to circle back to rob an old childhood friend. This is easier said than done, of course. The friend in question, Daphne (Madeline Brewer), is wealthy and living in a secluded mansion alone. She’s also suffering from deteriorating mental health. The only way in for Petula and Tilda is to play a game of Mother, Doctor, Daughter, hoping that Daphne will let slip where her fortune is. Once there, the the heist turns into a heady battle for survival. It turns out that each woman shares a dark past which threatens to overcome the present. 

With its brisk runtime and an pace that never lets up, Peirone’s film is a constant surprise. Each moment is more surreal than the last and Peirone evoke’s the energy of 90s kinetic euro-thrillers like Run Lola Run. With a plot that centers on deep psychosis and feminine bonds, Peirone delicately peels back layers of her characters. There isn’t a single moment that isn’t arresting. Tilted camera angles, psychedelic colors, flashbacks and alliterative editing pull us deep into a dream that we feel like we shouldn’t be watching but can’t stop looking away from. In the end, Peirone’s three characters dive deep into the nature of reality and friendship with singular types of trauma. 

Piercing review Christopher Abbott Mia Wasikowska

Piercing draws from a novel by Ryu Murakami. The story centers around Reed (Christopher Abbott), a man who on the outside seems like the perfect family man. He’s got a loving wife and a newborn baby, but he’s obviously dealing with some demons. Under the guise of a business trip, he leaves his family and books a hotel room. His goal is to hire an unsuspecting prostitute and kill her in the most gruesome way. When Jackie (Mia Wasikowska) arrives at his door, Reed’s plans go out the window. She’s got dark inclinations of her own, and over the course of the night, each will engage in a savage battle of wills and masochistic pleasure. They’ll also learn a lot about each other and themselves.

Piercing is a bit more ambiguous than Braid in terms of it’s themes, but every bit as absorbing. It’s hard to say too much about it without spoiling what happens. Let’s just say that this S&M cat-and-mouse game is a tension-filled, squirm inducing thriller that relishes in its depravity. Pesce wrings maximum tension from minimal elements, contrasting bright colors and a poppy Giallo score with dark underpinnings. Each scene tightens the noose, so-to-speak, and by that tortuous final act, all bets are off. The film never bends to what you think it will become, playing with absurdist humor, split-screen editing, quirky miniatures and increasingly nightmarish visuals. Peace goes for it to say the least. It all adds up to an unclassifiable film that makes us shift in our seats as were held captive by its masochistic whims. 

Braid and Piercing are introspective, twisty thrillers. The latter even has a healthy dose of kink. Though these films fit in well within the horror banner, they’re a nice break from the supernatural or the creature driven. Both prove that human nature can be scarier and weirder than fantasy, toying gleefully with surreal fits of suspense of to mine human frailty. These character driven thrillers keep us emotionally engaged while having a lot of dark fun. As long as you can stomach a bit of the ‘ol body mutilation, these are a must.