Film Review: The Perfection
The Perfection is a twist-filled ride with a reach beyond its grasp
Netflix’s The Perfection is a nasty little film that has lofty aspirations. Part love story, part body horror, and part revenge tale, director Richard Shepard aims high with his twist-laden story, but is never fully able to rise above the trappings of B-movie camp. Elevated by some fantastically deranged performances from Allison Williams and Logan Browning, The Perfection is popcorn fare disguised as high-brow horror. Mild spoilers ahead...
With virtuoso cello prodigies, an ill-fated trip through rural China, and a bloody denouement of revenge and mutilation, Netflix’s new horror film The Perfection easily recalls the scintillating grotesqueries of filmmakers such as David Cronenberg, François Ozon, and - in director Richard Shepard’s own words - Park Chan-wook. Under a sheen of fancily chaptered intertitles, De Palma-esque split diopter shots, and gnarly body horror, The Perfection aims high and wide with its imagery and absolutely bonkers twists and turns, but never quite lands among the high-brow pantheon of films it’s inspired by - instead, the film revels in its B-movie charms and provocations…and that’s totally okay.
Centered around prodigal cello talent Charlotte Willmore (Allison Williams, paradoxically leaning into as well as subverting her “damaged WASP” typecasting), The Perfection is a narrative that wears a variety of hats. Ten years after quitting the world of music to take care of her ailing mother, our wayward protagonist reconnects with the prestigious conservatory that she left behind. Nervously rehearsing a phone call with her old mentors, Anton (Steven Weber) and Paloma (Alaina Huffman), Charlotte is a bundle of nerves: “I know it’s been forever, but my mother finally passed away and I’m not needed here anymore. So, if it’s okay, I’d like to come and join you.” Winding up in Shanghai, she discovers that a new upstart, Lizzie (Logan Browning, Dear White People), has essentially taken her place as the school’s star. Charlotte then strikes up an unlikely friendship - and even unlikelier romance - with Lizzie. It’s here that The Perfection begins to flit about with its genres, turning on a dime from erotic thriller to insectoid horror to revenge tale - and sometimes, it works; other times, not so much.
“The best thing one can say about The Perfection is that it is fiendishly clever. With a script that particularly enjoys subverting tropes and upending expectations, the film is never what it seems.”
The best thing one can say about The Perfection is that it is fiendishly clever. With a script that particularly enjoys subverting tropes and upending expectations, the film is never what it seems, frequently weaponizing our familiarity with well-worn conventions in order to shock and surprise. Relying heavily on the talents of Williams and Browning, The Perfection winks at the dated and oftentimes troublesome Single White Female syndrome - in which lesbians in film are depicted as one-note crazy - but ends up doing something completely different and unique. On the other hand, an unnerving third act reveal - while not quite as problematic as some other reviewers and critics have made it out to be - is not as elegant, coming off as excessively subversive rather than compelling. The film’s twists are crucial to its structure and appeal, but I would be remiss not to provide this trigger warning: The Perfection does traffic in plot points concerning sexual abuse and assault, so if you are particularly sensitive to the subject matter, it would be wise to exercise caution.
The Perfection is almost suffocatingly defined by its twisty narrative, and as a result, it leaves a significant amount on the table. In a film that expends much of its energy in violently shocking its audience, there isn't much left to rise above its B-movie trappings, even with its bravura performances and fancy camera tricks. Neither taking full advantage of its Chinese locales nor its high-brow music backdrop, one almost wonders what a more measured and experienced filmmaker could do with the material. The Perfection lives and dies by its swerves, and while it remains entrenched in its subversive fetishism, it is also a wild ride that is hard to forget. Setting aside the obvious comparisons to the works of the auteurs that it is clearly trying to aspire to, The Perfection already does what many films in the genre don’t: it tries.