About 35 minutes into Netflix's latest feature, The Perfection, I went on Twitter and asked "Is THIS what everyone's raving about?" Make no mistake, for the last week social media has been blowing up with praise for director Richard Shepard's latest project, with many calling it one of the best films of the year. Sandwiched in-between positive responses for the Netflix thriller were comments mentioning "it peaks exactly where you think it does." The Perfection is a genre feature made for festivals which touts high ideals and a unique premise when it's just another staid feature spouting false feminism (aka "faux-menism").
Allison Williams, who gave us a perfect bait and switch character in Get Out, plays cellist Charlotte. We know she's crazy from the minute she's introduced, sitting silently in a chair while images are intercut of her screaming, slitting her wrists, and receiving electroshock therapy. After her mother's death, she decides to reconnect with the teachers at her old performing arts school and their new protégé, Elizabeth (Logan Browning). Lizzie and Charlotte have an intense chemistry, but when Lizzie gets sick, it kicks off a chain of events no one could have anticipated.
In reviewing What/If earlier this week, it's evident creators are making a lateral move during this current nostalgia boom. Instead of directly situating a plot in a specific time period, à la Stranger Things and the '80s, directors are evoking specific genres. And, much like What/If, we're seeing a male-driven return to the '90s erotic revenge thriller. This isn't immediately evoked in the trailers, which sell The Perfection as a body horror feature in the vein of David Cronenberg's The Fly or Steven Soderbergh's Contagion. In the beginning, Charlotte and Lizzie stumble upon a man vomiting in the middle of a performance space, alluding to the audience that a mysterious illness might be set to invade humanity.
When the film is playing within this defined genre, it's anxiety inducing. Watching Williams struggle to help Lizzie, who is becoming increasingly sicker, is terrifying. Couple that with being trapped on a bus in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by people who don't speak English (the plot sets the two in China), and the horror is heightened. Yet it's hard to mistake the air of camp that tugs at the fringes, especially since some of Williams' dialogue sounds intentionally terrible. This is part of Shepard's grand design, as evidenced by the film's frequent penchant for rewinding to show things from different angles, but it ends up undermining what is an incredibly intense half hour.
Many critics have compared The Perfection to the 1998 trash thriller, Wild Things, which is a misnomer. Yes, Wild Things focuses on salacious and taboo sex, with a power dynamic between characters that wouldn't fly in 2019, but that movie emphasizes a relationship between willing adults (or near adults). The Perfection's second half is the problem since it completely abandons the illness conceit for a straight-up revenge thriller. When it comes to the '90s erotic thriller, the sex and scandal make up a majority of the intrigue. But in The Perfection, it brings up scummy topics that are never treated with any sensitivity or tact.
Jessica Chastain and other activists have publicly discussed their disinterest in rape being utilized as a plot device to help a female character "grow," and the same criticism needs to be lobbed at The Perfection. In fact, this movie deserves more criticism, considering its third act involves pedophilia as it's ultimately discovered that Charlotte hoped to "save" Lizzie from her years being molested by the music school's owners. Said owners believe that through sexual torture and rape, the students will work harder on their music.
There are a multitude of issues the film never deals with short of saying "revenge is a necessity." Charlotte and Lizzie are forced to grow through years of being gaslit and raped by men in power, a story as overly discussed as it is timeless. Factor in the lesbian sex scene earlier in the movie and it's hard not to see this as a smutty male-gaze, revenge thriller ⏤ in spite of one of the credited screenwriters being a woman. Shockingly, Netflix also seems to green-light a lot of projects involving rape and pedophilia. The 2017 drama Mute has a heavy pedophile storyline and let's not forget Zac Efron as Ted Bundy. In 2019, do we really need more men writing about women being raped and abused?
The Perfection certainly has its legion of fans but it's hard to see what the attraction is. It's 30 minutes of a solid thriller and 65 of stupidity and abuse masquerading as unique. To be frank: The Perfection is less than perfect, it's downright stupid.