The Perfection (2019) by Richard Shepard
Review by Courtney Anderson
I don’t even know where to start with The Perfection.
It’s been a day or two, and I’m still gobsmacked by what I witnessed.
I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I am. I don’t know where I am. Please send help.
Is this how we’re supposed to feel after watching The Perfection? Was that director Richard Shepard’s intention? Did he want us to feel dazed, confused, and enraged? Because I do. And if that’s what he wanted, he should proud of himself. Although, I can’t help but feel that what Shepard wants me to be angry about and what I am angry about are very, very different.
I had a very visceral reaction to The Perfection; I want to punch the movie in its face. I want to punch the movie in its face until it falls to the ground. And then I want to keep punching it until my hands are numb, and bloody, and bruised. Only then would I collapse onto the ground, satisfied that the evil has been defeated.
That is an extreme reaction, I know. But, in my defense, this is an extreme ass movie. So I feel as though my extreme reaction is required.
When I say that The Perfection is “extreme,” I don’t mean that it’s super scary or anything. Because it’s not. It’s not scary, or suspenseful or thrilling in the slightest. I mean “extreme” as in extremely, unnecessarily gross. It’s blood and gore at its most cheap and useless. It’s excessive puke just because. It’s bugs in said puke just because. It’s body horror used in a way that makes me wonder if the filmmakers are secretly 9-year-old boys who still think shit and vomit are amusing. I mean “extreme” as in the film’s Black female protagonist is needlessly violated in such an extreme way that it made me want to scream.
On its face, The Perfect is about Charlotte (Allison Williams), a former musical prodigy. Charlotte had been enrolled in an extremely prestigious music school, but she had to leave and put her career on hold when her mother became ill. The movie’s editing, a few voice overs and some very straightforward dialogue from Charlotte tell us that the time away from her music chipped away her sanity, turning her into a repressed, desperate woman who doubts her own talents.
When we meet Charlotte in this movie, her mother has just died. Charlotte uses her mother’s death as an opportunity to reunite with her old mentors, Anton (Steven Weber) and his wife Paloma (Alaina Huffman). Upon this reunion, Charlotte also meets Lizzie (Logan Browning), the stunning cellist who has ostensibly replaced Charlotte in the music community — and Anton’s heart. Lizzie has everything Charlotte could’ve had: fame, adoration, money.
Charlotte and Lizzie’s relationship escalates so quickly that I damn near got whiplash. You can measure it in minutes. The first minute they meet, they’re a little frosty towards each other and view each other as rivals. But within the next minute, they’re both confessing how much they’ve admired each other over the years. And in the next few minutes after that, Lizzie is flirting with Charlotte during a cello competition, and then Lizzie’s telling Charlotte that Charlotte is the only person who makes her heart skip a beat when she plays the cello. Then Charlotte and Lizzie perform a cello duet, and footage of that duet is inter-cut with footage of them dancing at a club, and then having sex in a hotel room.
To be fair, I suppose the quick escalation was necessary for the film’s run-time: it’s only 90 minutes long. However, that just leads me to believe that if you’re going to do a 90-minute-long movie, you need to have the tightest writing possible. And this movie is loosey-goosey as hell.
Now, I know that the internet is extremely allergic to spoilers and the mere mention of a major plot point makes people break out into incurable hives. But I feel like I have to explicitly detail major moments in this movie to fully illustrate why I want to physically fight it.
At the beginning of this film, Charlotte and Lizzie see a man throwing up and are told that he seems to have caught a virus that’s spreading in China. Later on, Charlotte and Lizzie are on a bus, Lizzie starts to exhibit the same symptoms as that man had. She’s feverish, nauseated and has the runs. It’s a humiliating, disgusting sequence that ends with them getting kicked off of the bus and having to walk to a nearby town for medical help.
While they’re walking, Lizzie throws up again, and this time we’re shown that there are live insects crawling in Lizzie’s arm. Charlotte and Lizzie begin to panic as they watch the horrifying sight. After a whole lot of screaming and freaking out, Charlotte hands Lizzie a gigantic meat cleaver, and Lizzie chomps off her own hand.
As if this shit isn’t wild enough, the movie then rewinds to give us our first Plot Twist™: Charlotte purposefully drugged Lizzie so that Lizzie would become ill and start having hallucinations. There were never any bugs inside of Lizzie, but Charlotte convinced her that there were so that Lizzie would be willing to cut off her own hand.
The movie very briefly wants us to believe that Charlotte did this heinous thing because she’s jealous of Lizzie’s success and favor in the music community and with Anton. But then, there’s another Plot Twist™: as it turns out, Anton is a child rapist who sexually abused both Charlotte and Lizzie, and Charlotte was extremely desperate to “save” Lizzie from him. So she made Lizzie cut off her own hand so that Anton would have no use for her anymore.
And then a bunch of other wild shit happens, and then the movie uses that rewind technique again for another Plot Twist™. It all ends with Charlotte and Lizzie teaming up to take down Anton and his music school, getting justice for themselves and all the other girls he raped. Hooray.
Here’s my thing: the plot of this movie offends me in so many ways that I kind of have a hard time keeping track of them all. There’s the use of child rape as a plot device/character development. There’s the fact that this movie seems to think that dismemberment/amputation is a fate worse than death. And there’s the fact that a white woman’s crusade for justice includes her mentally and physically abusing a Black woman, putting her life at risk.
Worse yet, the movie expects me to believe that the Black woman would’ve needed this level of abuse so that she could become aware of how she’s been sexually abused, that she would’ve been grateful for it. The themes of this film feel like Richard Shepard skimmed a bunch of tweets about racism, ableism and the #MeToo Movement and decided to make a film that cruelly mocks them all.
As if the movie wasn’t thematically fucked up, it’s also technically inept. The writing is so bad; the dialogue somehow manages to be over expository yet frustratingly obscure at the same time. There are a couple of shots and angles that might have been cool if they weren’t overused. Allison Williams and Logan Browning don’t look good together, and Allison Williams’s acting is oddly stiff. The filmmakers seem to think the editing and cinematography would compensate for the weak writing, but it most definitely does not. The Perfection somehow feels like the longest yet shortest movie I’ve seen in a very long time.
I really don't’ know what else I can say about this movie. I hated it, obviously. And it made me irrationally angry, angry in a way that depletes my energy. I keep seeing people praise it, and I’m wondering what the fuck is wrong with everyone (or with me.)
I just want better. For the horror genre, for Logan Browning, for my emotional and physical health. I just want better, man.