By Poulomi Das Jun. 04, 2019
Richard Shepard’s The Perfection is a film of our times: It is designed to fuel polarising opinions and is impossible to dissect without giving out spoilers. It’s a given that a thriller that uses sexual abuse as its plot twist is bound to teether on the lines of being exploitative and The Perfection is no different.
Amajority of the promotional hype and the sustained interest in Richard Shepard’s The Perfection – streaming on Netflix – hinges on the recent image makeover of one of its leads, Allison Williams.
For five years and six seasons, Williams rose to cultural significance as the attractive, flaky, and self-centred Marnie Michaels in HBO’s Girls, fulfilling the detailed supporting arc in Lena Dunham’s sly indictment of millennial idiosyncrasies. Flawed as she was, Marnie was foremost harmless, cut out of the stock, white girl stereotype. But that changed with Get Out two years ago, which came right on the heels of the final season of Girls.
Jordan Peele subverted the public perception of both William’s appearance and on-screen reputation to craft a chilling, cold-hearted villain who unapologetically spoke the language of creepy manipulation. It’s really this deceit of being unable to fully read or trust the “Get Out girlfriend” – a testament to the movie’s pop-culture legacy – that The Perfection imbibes. It’s impossible to pin Williams’ Charlotte as simply jealous, a do-gooder, deranged, or plain mentally ill. Moreover, our perception of Charlotte is heavily influenced by what we know about her from Get Out. The Perfection gains from this fascinating exercise of manipula-ception.
The thriller also succeeds in imitating the genre-bending Get Out by controlling the narrative of when the audience is finally let in on the film’s true motivations. The Perfection employs every trick possible – explanatory flashbacks, ample blood and gore, clues of the smaller details missed in the search for the bigger picture, and intentional misleading – to become a film the audience doesn’t expect. It’s on-the-nose at times, but Shepherd has chops to spare, guaranteeing that The Perfection’s smart thrills are engrossing.
The Perfection’s biggest coup is its depiction of female revenge that remains subsumed in anger. Unlike the straight-forward Revenge which only exploited revenge as titillation, The Perfection refuses to accord the act with any semblance of “perfection”.
Broken into four chapters, The Perfection feels like a product of our times: It is designed to fuel polarising conversations, if not aggressive think-pieces, and is a film that is impossible to dissect without being accused of spoiling it. It revolves around Charlotte, a former musical prodigy who was forced to give up her dream of being a classical cellist to become her ailing mother’s caregiver. A decade passes until her mother’s death renders Charlotte free from the involuntary house arrest that consumed much of her adult life. Weary of the unpredictability of the world that awaits her, she reconnects with familiar faces – her mentor Anton (Steven Weber) and his wife – at an annual competition hosted by the music academy that she trained at. It’s here that she meets Lizzie (Logan Browning), Anton’s current musical protege and her nemesis. From the moment they meet, Charlotte and Lizzie are attracted to each other; their chemistry culminating into an erotic duet performance that is intercut with a sex scene which pulsates with passion. Much of The Perfection’s eventual mystery unfolds when the duo, after having spent a night together, decide to embark on a trip that peels off the layers and horrors of their past trauma.
The Perfection’s biggest coup is its depiction of female revenge that remains subsumed in anger. Unlike the straight-forward Revenge which only exploited revenge as titillation, The Perfection refuses to accord the act with any semblance of “perfection”. Women’s anger and retribution – similar to what we have witnessed in last year’s outpouring of #MeToo stories – is imperfect. The Perfection doesn’t even demand otherwise. For instance, in her blind desire to “save” Lizzie from her abuser, Charlotte also ends up harming her. It’s a gory moment that involves a chopped hand, bugs, and hallucinations, but it also reveals something much more deeper: that the film understands the complexities of “being heard”. It’s best depicted in how Charlotte and Lizzie use their bodies as their primary weapon for revenge, both on themselves and their abuser. And The Perfection’s graphic third act plays out like a synchronised dance that comes closest to articulating the messiness of a victim confronting her abuser.
It’s a given that a thriller that uses sexual abuse as its central plot twist is bound to teeter on the lines of being exploitative and The Perfection is no different. Shepherd mines assault conveniently, implying it through ambiguous slow-motion flashbacks to suit the wild-goose chase of the narrative. Yet, without the ingenuity of the flashbacks, watching The Perfection would also not be half as rewarding an exercise. In the film, Shepherd merely implies the rape, playing with our respective imagination to lay out the horrors of that implication. Often, it’s a move that backfires, coming across as a movie that has no idea what to do with sexual violence. Even as a plot twist, the actual ramifications of having a life tainted by sexual abuse, feels like it is glossed over. The Perfection then, becomes less a film that captures the blitzkrieg of the Me Too revelations and more like one that profits off it. If one were to rip apart the context of sexual abuse from the narrative, it would be reduced to just being a 90-minute-long bag of tricks.
The Perfection, then, barely scratches the surface when it comes to its #MeToo politics. But for a brief while, it does afford wronged women the space where retribution, after decades of being silenced and brainwashed, emerges without a sense of right or wrong – almost like a scream.
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.