Charlotte (Allison Williams) is a former musical prodigy who had to give up a highly promising career due to her mother’s sickness. Reconnecting with her former mentors Anton (Steven Weber) and Paloma (Alaina Huffman) she travels to Shanghai to watch a performance from their new star pupil Elizabeth (Logan Browning). Lizzie is everything that Charlotte should have been. She’s gorgeous, sophisticated, revered in music circles and hugely famous – her visage plastered across billboards. Lizzie and Charlotte meet cute over the course of the recital and after a hot and heavy drunken evening both wake up hideously hung over. Lizzie decides she wants to do a back to basics tour of rural China (pro tip never do “back to basics” travel in remote locations – you’re just asking for something terrible to happen). Lizzie and Charlotte catch a bus with some locals but Lizzie gets sicker and sicker. Something terribly, terribly wrong seems to be happening to Lizzie. And…that’s about as much plot summary as you get as really you are best off watching The Perfection knowing as little as possible. Directed nimbly by Richard Shepard (who also shares screenplay credit with Nicole Snyder and Eric C. Charmelo) The Perfection is a genre morphing rather nasty little number.
The film is by far the strongest in it’s first third. Williams, so effective as the white girl from hell in Get Out, is unsettlingly blank as Charlotte, the seemingly wide eyed girl just “aw shucks” happy to be in the room with all the fancy people. Even before we see the jump cut images that suggest Charlotte may have undergone significant treatment for mental illness we’re already aware that there is something offputtingly intense about her. Williams and Browning have decent chemistry and I did greatly enjoy the sensual frisson of the scene where Lizzie gently seduces Charlotte at the recital with her observations about those watching. Together they’re a car crash waiting to happen and yet you can’t quite look away. The film initially looks like its going to go the full Black Swan route with a jealous Charlotte trying to regain her lost years from the usurper Lizzie with some added Cronenberg style body horror thrown in for good measure and that is totally a film I would want to watch. But just when you think you’ve got a handle on where things are going and you’re keen to watch the immediate aftermath the film literally screeches to a halt so that it can “rewind” and explain to you gentle viewer that what you just watched wasn’t what you thought you just watched. The rewind concept probably sounded good on paper. Certainly the scriptwriters liked it enough that they do the same thing again later in the piece to extremely diminishing returns. But genre savvy viewers will have been way ahead of the characters on the first twist and spelling it out this literally is border line condescending.
The Perfection then morphs from classy psychosexual body horror to super trashy B Movie revenge/exploitation fic. Reviewing the rest is tricky as you don’t want to give secrets away but at the same time I do feel the need to warn of the film’s wildly indelicate and insensitive handing of a certain trope which comes out of nowhere and is handled stunningly badly (with an awkward helping of white saviour complex on top that made me rather wish that Williams and Browning had swapped roles). You know the trope I’m talking about. The one female characters routinely get as a backstory. Yeah that one. The one that needs to go to the bottom of the sea and remain there because it is just so bloody lazy. The one that made me give major side eye to the writers, especially the female writer because I expect better. I’m entirely sure the aim was to be as unpleasant as possible and hoo boy have they achieved that but it goes nasty with a capital N very fast and may give you whip lash in the process.
This middle section is a bit of a grim slog with another awkward “rewind” moment and not much fun to get through but things perk up for a suitably bloody gonzo finale with a striking final image.
The Perfection is now streaming worldwide on Netflix.
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