VOD Review: The Perfection.
The Perfection is grindhouse revenge porn with all the style and subtlety of a meat cleaver.
Netflix’s latest horror flick falls into the trap of thinking itself more clever than it actually is. What begins as an erotic thriller in the vein of Single White Female then switches track halfway through into revenge porn a la Hard Candy. You get the sense that this twist is meant to be delightfully subversive and edgy. Unfortunately, like much of the mechanics of The Perfection, it is instead artless. Director Richard Shepard has helmed several crime thrillers that did well with critics, which makes the forced elements all the more glaring. For a film about master class musicians tormented by perfectionism, The Pefection as a film often feels like amateur hour.
The Perfection (Netflix).
Charlotte (Allison Williams) was a child prodigy studying the cello at the prestigious Bachoff Academy, when her mother fell ill with a long and painful illness. After a decade away, Charlotte reaches out to the head of the Academy (Steven Webber) looking to get back into the music world. She is flown to China where she meets Lizzie (Logan Browning), the school’s new premier cellist. Charlotte and Lizzie hit it off, but Charlotte’s intentions towards the woman who replaced her at the academy are anything but clear.
Right off the bat The Perfection left me cold with its storytelling. It feels like every novice shortcut and gimmick in the book is on display – jump cuts to imagery that amount to backstory or forced character development, the camera lingering on items that become part of the “twists”, and blunt dialogue used just to further the plot. When Charlotte meets Lizzie, they have a genuinely touching moment of mutual admiration that ends in a hug…whereupon Charlotte looks at the camera and we see that her wrists are covered in scars (by dint of her holding them in a completely unnatural angle). Why yes, Mr. Shepard, we saw your utterly unsubtle reveal. The whole experience of the first hour is this type of rookie manipulative screenplay games that insults your intelligence while thinking itself incredibly deft.
There Will Be Blood.
The second half of the film is pure revenge porn, with the motivation/target for said revenge swinging around like a weather vane in a wind storm. A betrays B, who turns on C, who is secretly working with A and blah blah blah. The reveals are either based on red herrings or conjured from the ether. For all of that, they’re often predictable. It’s a street magician who you can spot palming the coin, which is baffling and irritating since he was supposed to be doing a card trick not a coin trick in the first place.
To paper over the inconsistencies and non-sequitors, we get blood. Lots of blood. And rape. Implied child rape. At this point I’m not surprised when a pulp thriller throws gore and rape and “subversive” sexuality at the screen in lieu of having anything interesting to say. I’m just annoyed by it. I guess the whole gonzo exploitation genre may not be for me. Or anyone with a pulse, really.
We Can’t Have Nice Things.
Part of me wants to highlight Williams and Browning’s performances, but I realize it is less appreciation of a job well done than pity at a onerous task accepted. There are moments where the two actresses rise above the script and direction, especially in the ten minutes the film messes around with the idea of being a proper psychological thriller. But there is also a ton of telemundo-style overacting – smoky glares at the camera, wild eyed stares, and overblown dialogue. Most of it comes down the script and the need for everything to be shocking and subversive. I like Browning on TV’s version of Dear White People, and Williams demonstrated she can pull off a charmingly disarming psychopath in Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Steven Webber’s role is fairly cliched, but he does an admirable job in the part. The spirit is willing, but the script is weak.
All Dressed Up, Nowhere to Go.
The visual elements of The Perfection are striking and memorable, for good or ill. One of the reasons I had high hopes for the film was all of the imagery in the trailer, which felt like Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at the End mixed with a solid psychological thriller. The sets, costumes and visual effects are well arranged. While much of the gore feels unearned, its not poorly executed, and leads to a generous dose of body horror. You could say its one beautifully ugly film.
I would have a hard time recommending The Perfection. It doesn’t respect its audience or its subject. Everything is made garish and lurid, which cheapens the visceral impact of the dark material. Too many shortcuts and cop-outs are used in the delivery of the story to appreciate it on a craftsmanship level. It’s not my cup of tea when it comes to genre, but I think even genre die-hards should ask for more. You can certainly find worse revenge porn out there on streaming platforms. You can also find better.