You tell me a film is going to fuck me up, and you can catch me in the front row on opening night.
So when I heard about The Perfection, a horror-thriller from Richard Shepard (long-time jobbing movie and TV director with an eye for the grotesque and surreal, and also a Emmy award for an Ugly Betty episode), and just what a psychological torture chamber it was, I knew I had to watch it. Starring Allison Williams (who has eternal fucked-up horror cred for her part in the seminal Get Out) and revolving around cellos, lesbianism, and meat cleavers, it basically seemed like the version of my teenage years that I wished I could have lived.
The first half of The Perfection is really just a neat little short story elevated by two tremendous performances – one from Allison Williams as Charlotte, an ex-cello-prodigy returning to the fold to find that she has been replaced by the exceptionally successful Lizzie (Logan Browning). What follows is a lesbian love story turned lesbian body horror, as Lizzie succumbs to a horrifying illness (props to Browning here for managing to make spontaneous diarrhoea scary instead of obviously hilarious), and the real reason for Charlotte’s return is revealed. Sharp with wit, shot against the chaotically handsome backdrop of Shanghai, and generally steeped with a low-budget exploitation feel, this section of the film works well enough to sell The Perfection on its strength alone.
But the most impressive thing The Perfection pulls off, emerging from the chrysalis of the campy, acerbic lesploitation flick, is it’s surprisingly powerful third act. A surprisingly deft – and powerfully disturbing – look at the way predatory relationships within the arts can develop, it’s got a lot to say about the way men have the monopoly over how women express themselves. Rebellion from the oppressive structures of the cello academy is signified with a rejection from classical music and an embracing of harder-edged mordern sounds. A Steven Weber performance that slowly unravels into pure horror marks him as one of the most discomforting villains I’ve seen on screen for a long time, and the whole thing sinks into this Giallo-esque body horror nightmare that owes as much to Argento as it does to the recent exposure of abusive systems with high-ranking arts circles. Just try not to pay attention to the fact that it’s distributed by the Weinstein-originated Miramax, huh?
The Perfection doesn’t quite live up to its title – as so few horrors do – but it does come pretty damn close. Disturbing and disquieting, and coming from a long-standing player in the industry, it feels as much a jab at the systems of abuse that are only now being challenged within the creative realm. Dark, witty, and beautifully performed, The Perfection is a fantastically anarchic meta-commentary on the world it comes from.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Rolling Stone)