The Perfection has a ton of promise. Broken up into four parts, Netflix physiological thriller follows Charlotte (Get Out’s Allison Williams)–a former cello prodigy forced to retreat from the limelight to care for her ailing mother. Ten years later, following her mom’s death, Charlotte tracks down her former cello instructors Anton and Paloma (Steven Weber and Alaina Huffman) in the midst of a ritzy global showcase in Shanghai–where they are celebrating their newest music sensation, Lizzie (Dear White People’s Logan Browning). Eager to return to her former glory, Charlotte quickly befriends Lizzie and the duo spiral into a vibrant and rapid pace friendship that is fringed with elements of erotica and reverence.
Avoiding the exhausting narrative of successful women who are envious of one another–Charlotte and Lizzie cling to one another, bonding over their shared love of music and their desire for adventure. Rather quickly they decide to embark on a make-shift vacation across Asia using Lizzie’s two weeks off as an opportunity to get away. That’s when things really get interesting.
Throwing caution to the wind, director Richard Shepard uses the sometimes campy time-rewind device effectively to reveal what was hidden in the first part of the film. What’s unveiled is much more sinister than anything Single White Female ever delivered. Rather cleverly, Browning and Williams lean into their characters, convincing the audience of the film’s authenticity despite the often overdone dialogue and terrifying brutality.
Shepard succeeds at creating a taut tension in the film–heightening the audience’s awareness before anything sinister is ever revealed. He’s also not afraid to step full force into the horror genre–showing us shots of Charlotte’s dead mother, or a sequence involving bugs running just underneath the skin of Lizzie’s arm. It’s all masterful for awhile–until it isn’t.
Unfortunately, despite the acting and the twisting and bending of genres from horror to revenge fantasy–The Perfection begins to crumble during the third part: “Home.” At first, we think Charlotte’s motives are based on her envy of Lizzie’s life and her desire to return to her former school. She seems desperate to take center stage and reclaim her previous status in the music world.
But, that’s not what occurs. When Charlotte’s true motivations are revealed, the film all but collapses. The audience learns that rape and sexual violence sit at the core of The Perfection, acting as a threat that looms over the protagonists as well as a tool to galvanize the characters. It’s disconcerting to watch.
We won’t spoil how sexual violence is woven into The Perfection–but it was shockingly unnecessary and walks back all of the intricate layers that had been set up in the film before this revelation. Not only is rape present in the movie–it’s also visually explicit. What’s most disturbing is that it never needed to be there. Discussions about power struggles and manipulation don’t need sexual violence. Leaning on the victimization of women as a way to propel characters forward in the entertainment industry is continually disturbing.
The Perfection was setting itself to be a wondrous display of indulgent rage and revenge, but using sexual violence as a crutch ruined it.
The Perfection will debut Friday, May 24, 2019 on Netflix.