The Perfection movie review: A deranged and disturbing new thriller for you to discover on Netflix
Director - Richard Shepard
Cast - Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Miller
Rating - 4.5/5
It is going to be nearly impossible to talk about it without revealing its many twists and turns (or revealing that it has twists and turns), but to enjoy it fully, it would make sense for you to not read anything about the film at all.
Watch the trailer for The Perfection here
There’s so much to unpack here, but director Richard Shepard constructs his story in such a silly, and often inelegant manner, that it is in direct contrast to the rather graceful backdrop against which the story is set. Like Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, The Perfection is also about the hidden underbelly of the contemporary art world - its sinful soul sheathed beneath a blanket of beauty.
The film is a study in the duality of extremes. A pretty aesthetic is juxtaposed with grotesque violence, even prettier girls are stripped - gruesomely - of their beauty, and a classical music academy is shown as the playground of the perverted. Peel away the superficial layers - of people, institutions, mindsets - and you’ll find a pit of darkness, the film appears to say.
Shepard, who has had a long and rather eclectic career - he has made excellent dark comedies such as The Hunting Party and Dom Hemingway, and also a rather terrific documentary on the tragic life of actor John Cazale - reunites with Allison Williams, whom he directed in the HBO show Girls. Williams plays Charlotte, a prodigious cellist who was forced to discard her dreams and drop out of the prestigious academy run by a man named Anton, after her mother was taken seriously ill and required constant supervision. Several years later, having been absolved of the duty of taking care of a dying parent, Charlotte returns to Anton, seeking her place back.
To her surprise, she learns that she has been replaced. A younger, more talented girl named Lizzy has taken her place as the apple of Anton’s eye.
One of the biggest achievements of The Perfection is how well it manages to play into your expectations, and how effortlessly it subverts them. It’s all delicately balanced on tone - Shepard treads a microscopic line, one foot in a puddle of sleaze and the other slammed on the gas - building and building until he breaks out of the realm of Earthbound logic and into a movie stratosphere.
For its first act, however, it restricts itself to a rather subdued tone. Charlotte arrives in Shanghai to meet Anton, and we remain in China till around the halfway mark. This isn’t done in an obnoxious, pandering manner - Netflix isn’t even available in China - but in a thematically relevant, richly subtextual way.
China, you see, has a much-debated history of dabbling in the morally dubious waters of Eugenics - particularly in sports. The country is famous for its basketball, tennis and table tennis academies; and, unsurprisingly, for having produced some of the world’s foremost cellists. Even the ones who aren’t from there - Yo Yo Ma and Tina Guo, to name a couple - are of Chinese origin.
But I digress. The Perfection is precisely the sort of gem that gets lost in the interminable glut of mediocrity that dominates the conversation these days - especially online. We will watch what we are told to watch - either by corporations or by algorithms. I am neither. So, please watch The Perfection.