There’s nothing perfect about The Perfection. In fact, at first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much to differentiate itself from the mountain of original thrillers populating Netflix’s exponentially growing library. This may be why you haven’t heard much about the film since it’s release a few months – not many people have even seen it. But while most thrillers on the streaming app seem to follow a paint by numbers approach to its plot, The Perfection takes several bold choices that may not all pay off, but are just crazy enough to hold your attention on those cold nights where you stay in.
The film stars a devious Allison Williams as Charlotte, a cellist prodigy whose career is put on hold when she has to care for her ill mother. But after her mother’s passing, Charlotte reaches out to her former cellist instructor Anton (Steven Webber), in hopes of rejoining the academy and picking up where she left off. Anton is eager to welcome Charlotte back into the fold, but Charlotte is put off guard when she realizes that he has a new prodigy, Lizzie (Logan Browning), who may be better than Charlotte ever was and is deeply established as the new golden girl at the academy.
The film quickly sets up its characters and stakes, which sets into motion what seems to be an obvious story of “jealous girl gone crazy.” The film knows that, and that expectation directly informs who the movie establishes as empathetic or antagonistic, and what we as the audience are intended to root for and against. The film’s sleight of hand is in breaking down the assumptions we make about the situations we’re presented, and what those assumptions say about gender-related expectations.
However, what needs to be made clear – The Perfection doesn’t achieve it’s goals cleanly. There is still a bit of clumsily handled execution and somewhat unbelievable character motivations. Much of which lies with the character of Lizzie, whose reaction to a dire situation is so confounding that it begins to break apart the illusions of this bizarre fantasy because the leap in logic is hard to deal with. Browning, who is terrific, does her best to make Lizzie feel like a real person, but I can imagine many who would eye-roll at what should be a moment of great catharsis.
I can also imagine those who find the symbolism in cutting off a piece of yourself that’s attached to a system of deceit, and The Perfection is not without mediations on power, who has it, who uses it, and what you can do about it if you lack it. Director Richard Shephard uses the benefits of perspective to raise every question and deliver every answer the film possesses. It also helps that Williams and Browning have remarkable chemistry, able to go from friendly acquaintences, to rapturous friends, to potential rivals without betraying the sensual tension behind their relationship. What is often overlooked in genre fare like this is if the cast is capable of elevating the material, and that is definitely a plus here.
By the end, one might feel exhausted by the film’s relentless trickery, but it’s also refreshing to see a film swing for the fences. This is accentuated with Shephard’s depictions of violence, which is at once very graphic but also not quite on the level of the many Giallo and Korean horror films that have either directly or indirectly inspired this batshit tale. The plot itself is already verging on surrealism, might as well let that extend to the violence as well.
Overall, not everyone will like this slice of violent B movie fantasy. But most will at least have a strong opinion, one way or another, precisely because the film takes risks and is confident in those risks when most filmmakers would settle into the safety of the Lifetime movie of the week. The Perfection is a trashy B movie, but that isn’t automatically a bad thing. What matters is the context, and the context here is that it’s a lot more fun seeing a film let loose on it’s crazy ideas and when a great cast is committed to those ideas regardless of their believability. Not everyone will appreciate it, but at least this trash isn’t the same old trash.