Today what I have for you is a horror movie (are you really surprised?) that comes to us courtesy of Netflix called The Perfection. Now, this is not just any horror film, but a horror film that has been getting a lot of buzz recently, being called controversial, fun, gruesome, one of the craziest horror films I’ve seen this year and a nasty little movie, so I knew that I had to check it out when it hit Netflix recently.
Typically, when a film elicits such strong reactions from critics I add it to my “Must Watch” list, just so that I can be a well-informed critic and artist and can continue to be inspired and improve my own work. After all, sometimes the most interesting things don’t come from the big studios, but the smaller indie studios who can take risks that a $200 million studio blockbuster couldn’t.
Sometimes, I am extremely happy and find a new favorite little indie picture that I can share with other film lovers and sometimes I am impressed by the ambitions of the film, but it may not connect in the same way. Other times, of course, I may be repulsed or turned-off by a piece, but I am never sorry that I took the time to take a look into a film like this.
So, with all of that said, what did I think of The Perfection?
Here is the longline: When troubled musical prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) seeks out Elizabeth (Logan Browning), the new star pupil of her former school, the encounter sends both musicians down a sinister path with shocking consequences.
First of all, the logline sounds kind of like if Whiplash meets Black Swan – not that it is a complaint, but from reading the logline alone I wonder how this film will set itself apart thematically and stylistically from those projects.
But let’s get into the plot:
We start with a scene in which Charlotte (our main character)’s mother has died.
I didn’t really like the start – with two older ladies “gossiping” and giving us a lot of exposition about the main character who has been caring for her mother for years.
Also, I didn’t like the titles – like 1. Mission that appeared in title cards throughout the film.
The most recent example of this use of titles that I have seen was in Gaspar Noé’s Climax (which I was not a fan of) and it felt forced there too.
Then, Charlotte decides to try to reconnect with her old mentor, Anton, played by Steven Weber (who looks a lot like Gary Cole in this, so I had to check on IMDB)
Her old mentor is in Shanghai, so we do a bunch of city hopping very quickly at the beginning, making this feel more like a Mission Impossible movie than a horror-thriller.
Once there, Charlotte meets her mentor’s new prodigy, Lizzie.
I liked the way that Lizzie and Charlotte got to know each other as they judge a contest for young musicians. The two talk crap about the performers which was a fun way to give some exposition while revealing a lot about the characters and their personalities.
It is also interesting that our main character, Charlotte, isn’t a student anymore and isn’t really competing with Anton’s new star pupil, Lizzie.
This helps set it apart from the other films like Whiplash and Black Swan.
The duet with Charlotte and Lizzy at the end of the student competition is well-done – it is nice that it shows their different styles and personalities and is intercut with them going out dancing that night as the music grows more and more intense.
Charlotte and Lizzie very, very quickly hit it off and rush out of the hotel/venue after the competition where they almost run into a man who is getting sick – we are told via an exposition character that there is some airborne virus that has been killing lots of people in the South and it may have spread.
Lizzie and Charlotte then sleep together – as I said, they hit it off very, very quickly. That night, Lizzie says that she is going out West to explore and get off the grid for her vacation and invites Charlotte to come along with her.
I understand what the reviews were talking about when they mentioned that the film was tonally all-over-the-place: starting out as a musical drama, then becoming an Eat-Pray-Love kind of stranger in a foreign land and then then turning into a body-horror piece – and that is just in the first 20+ minutes
Once they wake up in the morning, Lizzie is very sick, but insists that they go explore as she only has two weeks off and wants to make the most of it.
So, Charlotte, who has just met Lizzie, a woman who is clearly sick, decides that, instead of getting her medical attention or taking her back to the hotel, they should travel to the middle of nowhere and “explore off the beaten path” which seems like a really bad idea, especially because there is a killer-bug that they have just heard about that is making people deathly ill in the South.
On the tourism bus, we are treated to a prolonged scene in which Lizzie talks about how she is about to “Shit” herself and they have to try to stop the bus so that she can get off… off of the bus that they consciously got on when Lizzie knew she was sick and told Charlotte that she was not well. So this is totally on them and my sympathy for either of them is resoundingly nonexistent.
At 29 minutes in, I’m going to call a twist: Charlotte poisoned Lizzy which would like she had gotten that airborne illness so that she could take Lizzy’s place.
Lizzy and Charlotte are now on a bus in the middle of nowhere and Lizzy is dying from some unknown illness – she’s literally throwing up bugs.
Plus, Charlotte doesn’t speak any Chinese, so she is pretty useless – it’s just lucky (and very convenient for the plot) that there is a man who speaks English on the bus to translate.
Man, this is an illness that does not mess around – first it makes you feel like you’re hungover, then, just a few short hours later, it makes you throw up maggots.
After Lizzy smashes her head on the window and vomits maggots, the bus driver (finally) decides that there is something very wrong and throws them off the bus. This is in order to keep his other passengers safe, but the way it is done feels very exaggerated and makes this whole thing feel like a “Don’t travel to other countries” horror film.
Once they have been thrown off the bus, CGI bugs begin to crawl around under Lizzy’s skin and explode out of her arm – which is really gross.
*For the rest of this review, there will be lots of spoilers as the film takes a very rapid turn and it is impossible to talk about the film in total without giving spoilers. So, if you want to stay unspoiled, skip down to my final thoughts – you’ve been warned,
Then we rewind back to that morning when they first wake up, because —
Yeah, turns out Charlotte is slipped Lizzy some pills which made her sick and hallucinate things.
I actually like this, because we get to see everything that happened in reality – there never were any bugs, it was just Charlotte messing with Lizzie to make her think that she had bugs crawling out of her body.
We then jump to six weeks later in Boston which feels a bit jarring, with Anton and his wife. It makes sense, however, because Lizzie returns that night with her hand chopped off and tells them her story.
At this point, I do wonder what Charlotte’s endgame is – I mean, what exactly is it that she wants?
EDIT: Now I have seen the full film, and I still wonder: what is Charlotte’s endgame? I mean, she leaves Lizzy to die in the middle of nowhere and then… just peaces out and goes to Minneapolis to live. It’s only when Lizzy finds her and beats the crap out of her that she decides to return to Anton’s house/place and get revenge. There was no way she could have predicted that Lizzie would find her (or even survive long enough to get medical attention for her severed hand)
Anton and his wife decide to kick Lizzy out – leaving her with nothing and all alone. This causes Lizzy to crack and set out on a quest of brutal revenge against the woman that harmed her.
And now we are in a bloody revenge film instead of a musical drama or body-horror story.
Then we go right to Minneapolis (skipping all that travel nonsense, much like Game of Thrones Season 8 did because who cares how a character gets from place A to place B? It’s not like they had any meaningful interactions or adventures along the way or experienced any character growth and development as they traveled, right?) and see that Charlotte has just been living a normal life which feels… strange – shouldn’t she be hiding? What is she doing for money?
After attacking Charlotte, Lizzie returns to Anton’s house with Charlotte stuffed in the trunk of her car.
And now we are in a strange psycho-sexual-thriller as Anton tries to talk to Charlotte and she reveals that she has been in-and-out of mental institutions due to Anton’s abuse of her and his many young students.
The genre-jumping I like sometimes, but here it doesn’t totally work because we are cycling through multiple genres and the story can hardly keep up with the sudden and abrupt changes.
We then get a Whiplash-like flashback scene where Anton screams at Charlotte when she was enrolled at his school as a young musician. I kept waiting for him to yell: Not quite my tempo!
It also feels weird that Anton is now our villain – I mean, Charlotte basically kidnapped Lizzy, drugged her, chopped off her hand and left her for dead in the middle of nowhere – that’s pretty villainous if you ask me.
Also, it was very unexpected and nasty that we get more than hints (we see a naked Steven Weber in this, if that’s your thing) that Anton raped a 13 year old Charlotte – and presumably all of his young students – whenever she made a mistake.
Actually showing this felt unnecessarily gross and exploitative.
And now that Charlotte has been brought back to Anton’s music palace this has become Martyrs – as Anton reveals that this cult/group is in search of “perfection” – a way to be closer to God through achieving a musical perfection.
They then bring out the Chinese little girl who we saw win competition that Charlotte and Lizzy judged earlier in the film (her prize for winning the contest is a scholarship to Anton’s music school) and Steven Weber threatens to “punish” the young girl if Charlotte makes a mistake while she is playing the cello before the cult/group.
This feels extremely nasty and in really bad taste.
The whole thing feels like the filmmakers saw Cabin Fever, I Spit on Your Grave, Hostel and Martyrs and thought – yes, let’s do that! Let’s do ALL OF THAT AT ONCE!
And after Charlotte plays (where we learn that Anton wasn’t actually planning to abuse the young girl he brought in… yet) she is then sexually violated by Lizzy and a couple of Anton’s goons in a gross scene.
Of course, this is apparently just done for show as Lizzy – in a total 180 from where we just left her character – has poisoned the two goons and is there to free Charlotte.
This feels cheap – and then we do a flashback where – oh yeah, Lizzy has been working with Charlotte this whole time to take Anton down. Well, not the whole time, I mean, she was drugged and had her hand chopped off, but then she found Charlotte, confronted her, they had a laugh about the whole “Trying to murder me in a foreign country thing” and then they planned to take Anton down.
Also, why did Lizzie use the pills to drug/kill the two goons, but not Anton? If Anton is the ultimate target, why didn’t they just kill everyone with poison at once?
Oh my gosh – they literally put on rap music for the final fight with Anton. Talk about on-the-nose and tonally off.
Also, the end fight with Anton is so over-the-top gory and grindhouse it feels like it is a scene in another film that’s been spliced into the ending here – kind of like how Tyler Durden would splice porn into Disney movies in Fight Club – except, you know, with different fluids on the screen this time.
The last shot is just silly. I won’t spoil it here, but instead of being horrifying, it was more humorous.
Finally, there are many, many plot holes in this film – if you think about the plot, even a little bit, it really starts to fall apart, but it was moving so quickly I didn’t have much time to think about it.
For example – What is going to happen to the little girl who came to the house for her scholarship? She went to bed after Charlotte’s performance and is going to come downstairs in the morning to find a bloody massacre where literally everyone in the house has been murdered. Plus, she doesn’t speak much English, is only about 8 years old and is locked in a secluded mansion alone with a bunch of corpses.
If you are a horror fan or are curious, STREAM IT, otherwise, SKIP IT. This is a very nasty horror piece that I wanted to enjoy, but it doesn’t always work, as it smashes a bunch of genres, themes and ideas together at a breakneck pace. That said, I have to applaud the filmmakers for doing something so unique. I think horror fans will likely get a kick out of it and it may become a cult classic someday in near-future and, if this does sound like something so crazy you have to see, you may just get a kick out of it – though I can’t recommend it for a general audience.
Hey, it’s on Netflix, so it is easily accessible if you are ever in the mood for a gory body-horror, musical drama, revenge, travel, cult, torture piece.
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