Former cello prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) travels to Shanghai hoping to meet up-and-coming cellist Elizabeth (Logan Browning). The two become friends and lovers – but this bond is put to the test as past horrors, madness, and betrayal become increasingly entwined in their music careers and lives.
Not content with swamping the market with original films like Velvet Buzzsaw (awful) and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (decent), Netflix are also flexing their distribution muscle by bringing more unheralded movies to our small screens. Snapping up Alex Garland’s Annihilation and taking it worldwide unearthed a gem – and the team have done it again with director Richard Shepard’s The Perfection. Equal parts stylish and surreal, it subverts all expectations.
A low-key cast and negligible promotion gives the film a B-roll erotic thriller vibe that works in its favour. Within seconds, shock jump cuts framing protagonist Charlotte’s past trauma makes the film feel deliberately psycho-thriller-heavy, as if daring the viewer to guess what comes next. That’s the most impressive thing about The Perfection – 9/10 times you have no idea what’s on the horizon.
The lead casting of Williams was the masterstroke. Her past role in Get Out gave me, and I’d say other film fans too, an idea of what a treacherous character with a hidden agenda looks like on her. Williams uses this to trick the viewer time after time, twisting and double taking to continually force us to reassess our narrative assumptions. Browning does well opposite Williams in a physically demanding role, channelling a rollercoaster of emotions from raw passion to anger to seething resentment. The chemistry between the pair is also undeniable, working off one another and feeding our belief in each character’s personal motivation to survive. Steven Weber is also particularly noteworthy as the simpering director of the Bachoff Music Academy. The only flaw otherwise is a lack of depth underneath these characters, with other supporting roles barely beyond 2-D.
This flaw is covered by a batshit crazy plot that fires along at bullet pace. Screenwriters Shepard, Nicole Snyder, and Eric C. Charmelo put together a dynamic script with ample sexual tension, intrigue, and violence to satisfy most. Some of the plot’s character dynamics are outlandish though, requiring a significant logic leap to believe. This brashness is integral to The Perfection’s pulpy charm, but in the hands of a more experienced screenwriter these moments could have been shocking and entirely plausible. Indeed, while the film doles out the big, bold moments with aplomb, it fails in delivering any subtle social commentary that could have elevated it further.
One area that does solidly imprint on the viewer is the directing. Capturing the rhythm of a music-driven film is a challenge but can reap enormous stylistic benefits. Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, while failing on the character front, produced some fanatastic moments of directing and editing timed to perfection with musical harmonies. Shepard uses music to deliver the film’s most stand-out moments. The first is Charlotte and Lizzie’s seduction scene, seamlessly entwined with their cello duet towards the movie’s opening. The Perfection’s closing scene is a beautifully crafted shot of the two in another duet, tying together narrative, symbolic meaning, and sculpted mise-en-scene in one glorious moment. It sums up the whole film: hard to explain, yet compelling.
The Perfection gets close to that, with twists at each step of a dark, beautifully shot story. A stylish and horrifying addition to Netflix’s library. 7.5/10.