Coming your way via Netflix, The Perfection is a psychological thriller laced with horror, twisted around a cello prodigy’s pursuit for perfection.
By the time Steve Newall heard himself exclaiming “what the fuck?!” it was clear that The Perfection had earned a recommendation despite being uneven viewing.
You may feel (as I did), not too long into The Perfection, that you have a pretty good sense of where this thriller is going. You almost certainly don’t, and that isn’t to spoil any Shyamalan-y twist, but instead should be a selling point of this uneven, if ambitious and entertaining, effort.
The Perfection establishes all the elements of a Black Swan-ish rivalry early on, with Charlotte (Allison Williams) reacquainting herself with the upper echelons of the cello world after a protracted absence, and meeting Lizzie (Logan Browning), the star she could have been. The film toys with the viewer as the women circle each other with masked motivations, erotic and competitive overtones coming across very Brian De Palma, as does the film’s perfectly-cast slithery creep mentor, cello academy head Anton (Steven Weber).
The duplicity Williams displayed in Get Out lingers on here, Charlotte clearly a damaged character, but her intent unclear—having left the academy to spend the past decade tending to her ill mother, we’re left to ponder whether she wants to be Anton’s number one student again, needs a familial structure to cling to or is about to express anger at her missed opportunity. As Lizzie, on the other hand, Browning begins as a rather rote character, who becomes more interesting as the film unfolds.
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The Perfection’s first act settles into a seemingly predictable groove when Charlotte and Lizzie venture out into rural China together before things escalate into the grotesque. Then, sadly not for the last time, we’re treated to a pretty lame filmmaking device of rewinding back through events to give some more context. As it turns out, the film has been concealing information from us that most viewers had probably guessed and, disappointed, I found myself looking at how much runtime was remaining.
A more conventional film would have little gas left in the tank at this point, but a la Martyrs, The Perfection thankfully leans into a storytelling swerve with gusto, one that leaves the viewer scrambling to keep up, and all bets are off for the remainder of the film. The leads, Williams in particular, ground escalating insanity that culminates in some powerful zeitgeist-channeling, albeit through some pretty unpleasant narrative developments that may be hard to watch for some.
By the time I heard myself exclaiming “what the fuck?!” it was clear that The Perfection had earned a recommendation, and the finish line still wasn’t quite in sight. When it gets there, has the film stretched too far? Maybe, the ramping-up of outrageousness definitely taking hold over proceedings in buckle-up fashion. It’s easy to see why it wowed audiences at last year’s Fantastic Fest—fill up your living room to watch with vocal, incredulous others to get the most out of this if you can.