Review by David Baldwin
Charlotte (Allison Williams) was a teenage cello prodigy on her way to being a star. But she had to leave her illustrious school when her mother fell ill. Flash to ten years later, where her mother has passed away and Charlotte is not sure what to do next. She decides to take a trip to Shanghai and there she encounters Elizabeth (Logan Browning), the school’s new rising star. They have an instant rapport and comradery, but it does not last for long.
If you are squeamish, or prefer the movies you watch to feature less bugs, blood, and vomit, than this might not be the film for you.
I have already said far too much for my own good. Saying any more would rob you of the deliriously twisted pleasure in seeing how The Perfection plays out for the remainder of its 90-minute running time. The film was a huge hit at last year’s Fantastic Fest – and after watching, it is plainly obvious to see why.
Even if you have already watched the bonkers trailer, you will likely not even come close to being properly prepared for how wild and certifiably insane the film quickly becomes. I went in completely blind and found my eyes widening every few minutes, completely unaware of what was coming next. And if you think your predictions are just as clever as the film is, The Perfection has a habit of pulling the rug out from under you and completely subverting any and all expectations. It may even leave you screaming in absolute terror and shock.
The writing team of Eric C. Charmelo, Nicole Snyder and Richard Shepard (who also directs) have clearly seen their fare share of lurid pulp fiction, grindhouse schlock, gonzo female revenge thrillers body horror flicks, and use that knowledge to escalate the tension and dread here exquisitely. They even throw in a few passing rifts on the Oscar-winning Whiplash for good measure. Alongside David Dean’s spectacular and precise editing, they have crafted a horror film that has a blast playing with multiple themes and ideas – some significantly more disturbing than others – and their pitch-black sense of humour only increases how devious everything happening on-screen becomes. I regret being unable to see the movie play out with a crowd.
The script is far from perfect though. There are some genuinely ludicrous elements that do not fit all that well and a few too many lingering questions, but I found my biggest issue with The Perfection stems from how the team frames the specific answers they do give. It does not feel at all organic, and comes off looking like more of a gimmick than anything else. This format does not get used more than a handful of times, but when they do crop up, it stops the film completely dead in its tracks and makes it that much more difficult to pick back up again. And it’s really disappointing to note that, because the times they only partially lean into answers and force the viewer to come up with their own conclusions are stronger and substantially more horrifying. If you are going to trust the audience in some instances, you need to be able to trust them in others too.
Supporting wise, the only standout is Steven Weber, who does a great job diving headfirst into his key role. Everyone else might as well be part of the background otherwise they might steamrolled by Williams and Browning’s positively electric performances. They are terrific when they are on their own, commanding the screen through their emotions and sheer physicality. But when they are together, they are magnetic and make even the most outrageous moments in The Perfection look damn close to perfection. Their on-screen chemistry is magnificent, palpable and sensual, and both actresses succeed brilliantly with the more enigmatic and mysterious aspects of the film’s story. The film’s subversive pivots would not work nearly as fabulously as they do here without the work put in by these two spectacular actresses.
It will not be for everyone, but the people who do sign up for the journey of watching The Perfection will be treated to one of the most deliciously devious horror films of this or any other year. The film’s gnarly violence and penchant for not playing by the rules will delight hardened gore and body horror fans, and will keep everyone else guessing when they are not busy covering their face and avoiding whatever terrifying thing happens next. And while there are issues with the script and the reveals, the stunning performances by Williams and Browning are the type of next level greatness that simply demands to be seen. Just make sure you tap into The Perfection before someone ruins all the fun for you.