Rarely has a motion picture’s title been so brazen with false advertising! The Perfection, a genre-hopping Netflix original film starring Allison Williams (Girls) and Logan Browning (Dear White People), is divided into three sections. The first is quite promising. The second is certainly engaging, though undeniably ridiculous. The third isn’t just far-fetched, it’s insulting to your intelligence and, if you are the type of person with easily ruffled feathers, it may seem disrespectful to some very serious issues. It will be difficult to discuss this film without unloading heavy spoilers, as wacky twists is this movie’s main offering, but I will attempt to employ the finesse that the screenwriters ignored.
We open on Charlotte (Williams) beside her mother’s deathbed. She’s been tending to her for a decade and now, with her gone, family members wonder if she’ll be able to return to her previous life. She was a skilled classical cellist, working with Anton (Steven Weber), the most respected instructor in the field, but she gave it up when her mother fell ill. She zips off to Shanghai to meet with him and his wife (Alaina Huffman) as they prep a competition. Their new prize pupil Lizzie (Browning) is a recording and touring star featured in New York Times photo spreads. When Charlotte approaches her with a plastic smile, you get the sense there’s an All About Eve or, at least, a Showgirls storyline about to emerge.
It does, to a degree, but not as expected. Lizzie flirts with Charlotte, and the pair, who bond over music and their rigorous training, seem made for one another. There’s a dazzling duet sequence, the pair bowing their cellos with an unsubtle erotic thrum, intercut with a night out in Shanghai’s sleeker environments. But the close-ups on Charlotte (and the fact that the young women have matching eighth note tattoos) clue us that something is definitely up.
Chapter two ought to be the start of a romance, but as they head off to the Chinese hinterlands on a quick vacation, Lizzie starts to feel sick. Suddenly The Perfection becomes a puke fest and worse, with lovely Logan Browning voiding her bowels on a bus. And then the sequence really gets gross. The screen runs with ooze, inspiring no shortage of “ewwws!”
It is not as it seems, however, and section three brings the action back to Steven Weber’s New England conservatory. Things spiral into generic horror movie territory here, with occult-like happenings and grotesque rituals, though with little creativity of, say, the dance academy in either the old or new Suspiria.
What’s annoying is that other than the eruption of bodily fluids (and solids) there’s nothing that weird about the movie. All of the performances are fine, but no one lets lo0se and really goes for it. Weber is ultimately a pretty generic middle-aged dude. He bears a slight physical resemblance to Gary Oldman here, and that comparison does him no favors. When the final reveal of what, exactly, has been happening at his Musikverein, the glib tone of the otherwise fun-sy film feels unworthy of the topic.
An ultra-violent conclusion is meant to be some sort of catharsis, but the preposterous set-up makes it impossible to take seriously. The movie employs a few freeze-frame/rewind gimmicks to offer new context for a sequence we’ve just watched, and when one dosen’t comes for the ending it feels like everyone just gave up.
The punchline is that the film, written by Supernatural producers Eric C. Charmelo and Nicole Snyder with director Richard Shepard (a Girls alumni who also helmed the very entertaining Dom Hemingway) was most likely conceived ending first, with the earlier sections written as a wind-up to get to this idea. That the filler is what works best is some kind of perfection.
The Perfection premieres Friday, May 24 on Netflix.