Netflix’s newest in horror is a twisty gorefest that only misses a few notes.
If Tom Hanks plays lovable everymen, and James Spader plays irredeemable scumbags, then Allison Williams is cornering the market on playing malevolent young white women. Making the mere act of eating cereal look unsettling in Get Out, she brings that same level of glassy-eyed, overly poised anti-charm to Richard Shepard‘s The Perfection. Part erotic thriller, part revenge thriller, with a lot of Hitchcockian twists and turns and a large dose of body horror, it tries to be a lot of things, to varying degrees of success. One thing it’s not, however, is boring.
Williams stars as Charlotte, a former cello prodigy who had to give up her spot in a prestigious music academy to care for her sick mother. After her mother dies nearly a decade later, she returns to the academy expecting to still be the star pupil of its demanding headmasters, Anton (Steven Weber), and his wife, Paloma (Alaina Huffman). Charlotte quickly discovers that she’s long been replaced, however, by the younger, bolder Lizzie (Logan Browning, Dear White People), who’s so successful a cello player that she earns commercial endorsements.
Though you’d think Charlotte and Lizzie’s first meeting would be bristling with hostility and competition, it turns out to be quite the opposite. They fall almost immediately into a passionate affair, and though they’ve just met they decide to spend the weekend backpacking together miles away from civilization. Their blossoming romance is interrupted when Lizzie becomes violently, horrifyingly ill…or does she?
Any movie that opens with a scene reminiscent of Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria and ends with one that’s reminiscent of Tod Browning’s Freaks is a movie that takes its viewers on a ride .
While explaining Lizzie’s illness would definitely qualify as a spoiler, it doesn’t ultimately spoil the entire movie. Not everything about The Perfection works, but what it does well is faking out the audience in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or forced. What seems like an obvious explanation turns out to be wrong, and what looks like the expected resolution turns into something else. Shepard and his co-screenwriters Nicole Snyder and Eric C. Charmelo borrow heavily from Alfred Hitchcock, Brian DePalma, Roman Polanski, and Dario Argento, but put their own clever, campy spin on it.
The film sags a bit in the third quarter once we realize who the real villain is, although, to be fair, virtually every character in this is at least a little bit sinister. The ending is laugh-out-loud over the top, in a way that would have David Lynch saying “Oh, come onnnnnnn.” But, again, the fact that you don’t it coming is what makes it enjoyable. Any movie that opens with a scene reminiscent of Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria and ends with one that’s reminiscent of Tod Browning’s Freaks is a movie that takes its viewers on a ride, and, more importantly, values their time.
Williams and Browning both give pitch-perfect performances, playing characters whose motivations aren’t always clear, and when you think you’ve got them figured out, here comes another hard right turn. They’re not merely carried along by the plot, they propel it, in a way that’s sometimes silly, but always fascinating and eminently watchable.
Considering how many of its fans watch films specifically because they’re bad, no genre rewards laziness and derision like horror. The Perfection isn’t without its issues, and rarely makes up its mind as to whether it’s trying to be serious art horror or camp trash. The fact that it even swings for the fences at all is commendable, however, and deserves praise just for trying. The fact that most of it works pretty well is a happy, bloody, and creepy surprise.