2019 | rated R | starring Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber | directed by Richard Shepard | 1 hr 30 mins |
The Perfection is a little horror movie that first seems to be a horror film and then a thriller and then something else even wilder and more surreal. It’s a twist machine. It’s desire to twist, rewind and Rashamon the story and that’s effect on the audience starts overriding the impact of what it’s trying to tell. It’s a fun, above all weird and well made movie, but I’m not sure if it’s entirely successful.
Some twist machines really work, Martrys, my gold standard in this, works so beautifully because each revelation works like an onion to peel back a piece of the story and get us somewhere that’s as interesting as the journey. Without revealing too much, The Perfection feels like it works in reverse. It starts very interesting and gets less so with each reveal – but it also gets wackier with each reveal so your mood may vary.
Charlotte (Allison Williams) was a child prodigy cellist at the Bachoff Music School before giving it up to care for her ailing mother. Now she’s been invited to Shanghai to judge a new batch of class hopefuls along with the school’s newest rising star Lizzie (Logan Browning) who has taken her place in the heart of school founder Anton (Steven Weber). Their admiration for each other forms a friendship and then a romance, but is Charlotte harboring a jealousy for Lizzie. The movie plays into a Black Swan professional rivalry before launching into it’s best segment – an extended body horror sequence set on a bus in the middle of nowhere as Lizzie starts to succumb to a violent illness.
Ultimately, as much fun as The Perfection ultimately becomes, the film’s detriment is that this body horror sequence is too good. It so well mines the universal fear of being sick, alone and vulnerable in a foreign land where nobody can understand you or is willing to help. The movie never tips it’s hand that this isn’t our final destination (which is exactly the way to go) but if you’re going to so commit to something this compelling and then turn the tables on it, what you ultimately need to reveal needs to be better and here I’m not sure it is.
We get two more huge twists after this – the first, I think, works because as Get Out showcased Williams has a knack for delivering a warm, caring smile and then a second later freezing up into an evil, ice cold stare. She can create a character that makes the audience unsure of her loyalties which works well for this film. Director Richard Shepard (who previously helmed several Girls episodes including the Marnie-centric mini-movie “Panic in Central Park) plays with our previous Black Swan, Get Out experience to keep us off balance.
Then we get to the third act and a final twist that doesn’t send us to the center of the onion, but undoes a lot of the work the rest of the film did. It’s fun, it’s visually imaginative and it leads to a final shot that is horrific, beautiful, surreal and not easy to forget. It also feels like it sacrifices character for surprises and the ever-present movie trope of swapping out female villains for male ones (Wonder Woman, Kingsman 2, Hardcore Henry, etc) because audiences still are squeamish about seeing even the nastiest female villain killed in the end. There way the film turns hard on child molestation for a 3rd act motive feels cheap and manipulative.
I enjoyed watching the movie, even as it slowly started to fall apart, it was still fun to ride the twists and turns. But ultimately The Perfection doesn’t play into it’s strengths in it’s desire to surprise the audience. And I’m not sure it’s earned. This movie puts Chekhov’s gun on the wall in the third act and it goes off 5 minutes later. How satisfying is that?