Monday, May 27, 2019

Movie Review: The Perfection

The Perfection *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Richard Shepard.
Written by: Eric C. Charmelo and Richard Shepard and Nicole Snyder.
Starring: Allison Williams (Charlotte), Logan Browning (Lizzie), Steven Weber (Anton), Alaina Huffman (Paloma), Winnie Hung (Mingzhu), Graeme Duffy (Geoffrey), Milah Thompson (Young Lizzie), Molly Grace (Young Charlotte), Mark Kandborg (Theis), Eileen Tian (Zhang Li), Johnny Ji (Li Jun).
Spoiler Alert: I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum below, but I listened to those critics on Twitter who said that you should go into the movie cold – knowing as little as possible about the film – and I agree with that. While great movies can sometimes handle being “spoiled” and still be great, a film like The Perfection, which is merely good, would benefit greatly from you knowing nothing about it. I think you should see it – although be warned, some have been offended (and not without reason) with some of the last act twists. So be warned.
In many ways, Netflix original The Perfection seems like it has been designed by an algorithm to be a perfect Netflix film. It is a horror film that grabs you from the opening, and then reinvents itself every 20-25 minutes or so, to make sure that you don’t grow bored or complacent as a viewer – that you don’t switch over to something else. If that sounds like an insult, well, in a way it kind of is. This structure does keep The Perfection from being a deeper film on any level. But on a narrative and WTF did I just watch level, in this case the algorithm delivered a film that keeps you hooked, and disturbs you greatly.
The film is about Charlotte (Allison Williams) who was once the prized pupil of Anton (Steven Weber), who runs a school for gifted cellists. Charlotte was supposed to be the next great cellist in the world – but then she abandoned her calling when her mother had a stroke, and she spent the last decade taking care of her, until she died. She then reaches out to Anton again – and he invents her to Shanghai. There, Charlotte meets and immediately bonds with Lizzie (Logan Browning) – who became what Charlotte was supposed to become. They are in Shanghai for a competition – the winner gets a full ride at Anton’s school. Charlotte and Lizzie fall into relationship built on mutual respect, and lust. Lizzie is supposed to take two weeks off – and go through China in some rougher than normal conditions. She invites Charlotte along – who willing agrees. They get on a bus – and then Lizzie gets sick, really sick. And then The Perfection becomes some sort of body horror film. And then 20 minutes later, it twists again. And then again. And then again. You will probably never be able to tell just where all this is going until it hits you.
I wont get into any of those twists, except to say that film gets increasingly extreme, increasingly disturbing and increasingly ridiculous – which means, of course, it becomes increasingly entertaining. The film was directed by Richard Shepard (who co-wrote it with Eric C. Charmelo and Nicole Snyder). Shepard is the kind of journeyman director who in decades past would have an interesting career in genre film – but in this climate, he goes years between films, and fills the time with a lot of TV work. None of his previous films that I have seen (Oxygen, The Matador, The Hunting Party, Dom Hemingway) have been great, but they’re all quite good. He has worked on numerous TV shows – most notably Girls – where he did 12 episodes. This helps him, because he seems know precisely what Allison Williams can do, and pushes her to extremes in the film. Williams is great in the film – she has the trickiest role, as she has to hold back throughout the movie, while making you believe that this time, she isn’t holding back at all. Her co-star is Logan Browning – who is great in the Tessa Thompson role in Netflix’s Dear White People show – and she’s quite good here as well, although the role doesn’t have as much to do as Williams’ does.
Because the film keeps twisting itself, Shepard gets to draw on numerous influences. You’ll see a little Chan-wook Park, a little Brian DePalma, a little David Cronenberg, a little Dario Argento, and a little Darren Aronofsky – and probably some others I didn’t notice. Because it keeps twisting, no, its not as deep as the best of any of those directors. But Shepard gets the surfaces of all those filmmakers right, and just keeps on pushing it further and further.
Yes, the ultimate end game of the film will immediately turn some people off – bringing in some all too plausible real world terror and turning into an exploitation horror film. It will immediately take some people out of the movie – and fair enough. But to me, it’s clear that the filmmakers here are not taking any of this too seriously – and are going for shock value. And on that level, the film works wonderfully. This is the type of film that Netflix should be making – you won’t feel guilty for watching it at home rather than in a theatre, but you may feel guilty for just how much you enjoy this ridiculous monstrosity that just plain works on the level it wants to.

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