Movie Review: A subpar story and sickening violence cause ‘The Perfection’ to fall completely flat
Director: Richard Shepard
Writers: Eric C. Charmelo, Richard Shepard
Stars: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Alaina Huffman
Synopsis: When troubled musical prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) seeks out Elizabeth (Logan Browning), the new star pupil of her former school, the encounter sends both musicians down a sinister path with shocking consequences.
“It’s what’s expected of us.”
This is the mantra of the characters in The Perfection, a new Netflix film from director Richard Shepard. The two leads – Charlotte (Allison Williams) and Lizzie (Logan Browning) – are students of an elite school for cellists, and this is what they are taught. Do what is expected of you, and what is expected of you is perfection.
Lizzie is the new star, and Charlotte is the former one. We meet Charlotte in the film’s first scene as her mother is dying. From whispered dialogue by her family members, we learn that she has nothing left to fall back on other than the music career that she left to care for her sick mother. She makes a call to her former teacher, Anton (Steven Weber), and his wife, Paloma (Alaina Huffman). She meets them in Shanghai at a contest to choose the next student at the Bachoff Academy of Music. It is here that Charlotte meets Lizzie.
Good stories are able to hide the fact that they are made up of plot points chosen to move the narrative along. Bad stories leave the contrived nature of their parts open for the audience to see.
The Perfection is a bad story.
Repeatedly throughout the film, the story will bring us to a place where something completely out of the blue happens that was not adequately set up. Then, the film will reverse to show us plot points that we hadn’t seen before which retroactively make the story tie together.
But that is, on its face, poor storytelling.
There have been great films with large twists that completely shift the narrative that came before it. I recently re-watched Mulholland Drive, which is such a film. But there, we are given all the pieces we need, we just don’t have the context for what those pieces might mean until the end of the film. Then, when everything is reframed, seemingly small moments from earlier in the film take on new meaning.
An example of where The Perfection mishandles this is a scene after Charlotte and Lizzie meet. After the contest, Lizzie is ready to take a vacation. She and Charlotte have a fling, and they decide to travel together. On this trip, Lizzie becomes sick – to the point where we believe she may have contracted a unique virus (the handling of the introduction to this plot point is quite ham-fisted as well). When Lizzie is at her wit’s end, Charlotte all-of-a-sudden pulls out a butcher knife and tells Lizzie to cut off her infected hand. The rules of storytelling would tell us that such an important plot device should have been introduced, however slightly, earlier in the film. The film “fixes” this by pulling one of its rewinds and showing us how Charlotte got the knife. But audiences are smarter than that. We can already tell that this film has no care for craft.
The character details are also way off. Lizzie is supposed to be a one-of-a-kind musician. To reach that level, you need an incredible attention to detail. We find later in the film that Lizzie’s “sickness” came from a mixture of drugs she was given by someone else. But the fact that she would even allow someone else to do that to her seems completely outside the realm of possibility for her character. All films deserve a certain level of suspension of disbelief, but films like this show us through their lack of storytelling craft that it isn’t worth the effort.
There are other moments that leave us dumbfounded. The film repeatedly introduces characters and ideas and then fails to pay them off. The opening scene, in fact, (which shows us the death of Charlotte’s mother) doesn’t seem to have much bearing on what comes after it. Charlotte rarely mentions the death of her mother throughout the rest of the film, signifying that its place in the opening held little to no meaning.
Maybe there’s something here about the insanity of genius, but the film doesn’t want to reach for anything that insightful. All it wants is to provide a few scares and let its flashy camerawork attempt to prop up a subpar story. Unfortunately, it can’t.
Having said that, the camerawork is flashy. Early in the film, split diopter shots are used to show the similarities between Charlotte and Lizzie but also the clear rift between them. There is also a moment when Lizzie reaches a point of decision when the camera makes a full 360-degree rotation. Were it not for the utterly-lacking storytelling effort, the camerawork and visuals could have made this at least an average film.
The film’s final act displays Tarantino-esque levels of violence and gore, while it simultaneously strives for a revenge story one might also find in a Tarantino film. But I won’t mention that famous director anymore, because the film doesn’t really deserve the comparison. Setting up a revenge plot and putting in puke-inducing levels of violence are not enough to reach those lofty heights. You have to back it up with craft, too.
On the revenge tale, this film’s story must have seemed timely to its creators what with the rise of the #MeToo movement. However, I think it’s okay for filmmakers to consider that they don’t necessarily have to make every female have a backstory that includes sexual abuse. Certainly sexual abuse is a reason to be angry, and I can completely understand that it would drive characters towards revenge. But this film takes the added step of driving its female characters into violence against each other. I just wonder if that is the best handling of this material.
I must give credit to the film’s closing shot, which was impressive. But I also must be honest – when I saw it, I was more thankful that it signified the end of the film than for its visual power. That alone should tell you enough about my feelings about this one.
This film is not at all what you’d expect. Sometimes that’s a good thing. In this case, it just means that, unless you were expecting a terrible film, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Overall Grade: F
Hear our podcast review on Extra Film here: