The Perfection

Year: 2019
Production Co: Capstone Film Group
Studio: Netflix
Director: Richard Shepard
Writer: Eric C Charmelo/Richard Shepard/Nicole Snyder
Cast: Allison Williams, Steven Weber, Logan Browning

Well, Netflix works. I probably never would have watched this, but when I was logged in looking for something else, it played the clip of Charlotte (Allison Williams) and Elizabeth (Logan Browning) on a lonely road in the forest, Elizabeth throwing up, crying and telling Charlotte something is wrong with her, and something about it was creepy and off-kilter enough for me to add it to my list.

After watching it I felt for Netflix's marketing people, because though it's an arresting scene, this film is very hard to sum up or sell in a single clip. There are too many ideas, locations and creative aesthetics to pick one and say 'that's what The Perfection is'. Even the motif of trying to achieve perfection that ultimately drives the characters in the worst way is just a portent for something different and much darker.

In fact, with a blend of David Cronenberg body horror and revenge thriller with a twist, it lands just on the wrong side of having too many ideas, and even though there's some strong directing, it adds up to slightly less than the many well-executed and interesting parts.

We learn that Charlotte was a musical prodigy growing up and learning the cello at a prestigious music school/home run by a famous and refined teacher Anton (Steven Weber) and his svelte European wife. But she left school very young to care for her ailing mother, and Elizabeth took her place.

Now, both of them beautiful twentysomethings, Charlotte re-enters the world of music and concerts when she finally lays her mother to rest, attending a performance Elizabeth gives to a gallery crowd dripping with finery in Shanghai. Anton introduces the girls to each other, and we assume Charlotte has plenty of residual jealousy because it should be her lapping up the accolades and album deals Elizabeth is currently enjoying.

The evening is marred only by an unfortunate gentleman who suddenly vomits all over the floor during the swanky cocktail do after the performance, but Charlotte and Elizabeth find themselves drawn to each other instead of nemeses to the extent they end up going out dancing and eventually go to bed together.

The next day Elizabeth has the day off and she intends to spend it exploring the wild interior of the country on a ramshackle bus, asking Charlotte to come with her. Already hung over from the previous night, Elizabeth feels terrible but they set off, things slowly going from bad to worse. She feels sick, desperately thirsty and throwing up, desperate to be let off the bus to relieve herself on the side of the road.

When she vomits up a mouthful of bugs things turn nightmarish (like we've seen in the promo clip), and after the bus abandons them in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country, Elizabeth is convinced there are bugs crawling throughout her body under her skin, and when Charlotte producing a metal hatchet it propels things into a whole new territory before the screen goes black.

We meet Elizabeth a shadow of her former self some time later, back at the school but with her career over after the loss of her hand after the self-inflicted assault bought on by her mania. As we see her try to live as close to normalcy as she can, the second act reveals that things were not what they seemed on the China trip, that Charlotte had a devious plan and a frightening motive all along that concerns the school, Anton and his trophy wife.

After what happened between them you won't quite believe Elizabeth and Charlotte would team up again against a common enemy...until they do, and it makes the whole film something altogether weirder and more disturbing again, giving the basement performance room of the school that we've already seen the air of a torture chamber or haunted house.

The roadside bout of sickness and insanity has been brutal and extreme enough, but The Perfection only get stranger and more bloodthirsty (in the ideas – there's not a lot of outright gore) as it goes on, ending up almost in a place of twisted fairy tale fantasy at the end as Charlotte and Elizabeth give a performance that might be full of the perfection they've been chasing all their lives.

I'd never heard of any of the creative talent behind the camera before, but I can see how the reviews have been skewed one way or another as a result of their efforts. Some critics say it's a jumble of ideas that never coalesces into a confident enough whole, others say it has the Grand Guignol feel of a very gilded and classy gory slasher movie, and they're both right.

The presence of Allison Williams also got me thinking about white male privilege and/or ambition in Hollywood. After Girls, she's appeared in this film and a live TV version of Peter Pan and nowhere else I know of, where he co-star (and a supporting player in the show) Adam Driver is a global megastar as I write these words, having appeared in about five major films this year.

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