Early February recommendations: ‘Piercing’ and ‘Sparrow Creek’ are pitch-black gems

January is notoriously a strange month for new releases. Cities like Buffalo see the long-awaited debuts of Oscar wannabes, which is good. The bad? January is also a dumping ground for poor studio films.

February, however, is when the tide begins to turn. Two small-scale new releases signify this welcome change. Both are ultra-dark, extremely violent, and utterly fascinating. And both are more than worthy of attention.

“Piercing” and “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” arrive in theaters are successful festival screenings — the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, respectively. Neither is likely to gain a large audience, especially the delightfully perverse “Piercing.” But each film qualifies as an early 2019 gem.

Kinky, gruesome, and luridly shocking, “Piercing” is the second film for writer-director Nicolas Pesce following the impressive horror drama “The Eyes of My Mother.” “Piercing” features a grander scale, bigger stars — “James White” and “First Man”’s Christopher Abbott and “Crimson Peak” and “Stoker” standout Mia Wasikowska — and high-profile source material. It is based on the novel by cult favorite Ryû Murakami.

Like “Eyes,” it is best to go in knowing very little about the direction of “Piercing”; the shocks would certainly be less jarring for any audience members who read Murakami’s book. The basic plot involves a tense husband and father with a dark desire: to brutally murder a stranger. Wasikowska plays the sex-worker randomly chosen as the future victim.

However, she is as mysterious and dangerous as he is. The result is a quasi-love story that is hard to watch — especially a downright unforgettable torture scene — yet also full of twisted humor. If you can stomach this disturbing psychological thriller, it’s an early 2019 treat.

The same is true of “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek,” a tense, atmospheric potboiler from first-time writer-director Henry Dunham. Featuring a cast of stellar character actors — including James Badge Dale, Brian Geraghty, and Chris Mulkey — “Sparrow Creek” is gripping from start to finish.

Just like “Piercing,” it’s best to watch knowing very little.“Sparrow Creek” sees a former cop discover that a shooter at a police funeral is a fellow member of his militia. In their headquarters, he must attempt to identify the killer through a series of intense interrogations.

It all culminates in a shocking twist ending, the kind that might inspire you to go back and watch again. Dark in every way — the militia really needs to spend a bit more on lighting — “Sparrow Creek” is a smart debut for Dunham. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

“Piercing” and “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek”  are now in theaters and on VOD and digital HD.


“Piercing”: B+

“The Standoff at Sparrow Creek”: B+