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On Netflix: THE PERFECTION (2019)

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THE PERFECTION
(US  - 2019)

Directed by Richard Shepard. Written by Richard Shepard, Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder. Cast: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber, Alaina Huffman, Mark Kandborg, Graeme Duffy, Molly Grace, Eileen Tian, Milah Thompson, Winnie Hung, Johnny Ji, David Soo. (Unrated, 90 mins)

Horror's "slow burn" movement over the last decade has given way to term "elevated horror," often invoked when it comes to the likes of THE WITCH, HEREDITARY, the Jordan Peele double-shot of GET OUT and US, and other ambitious thinkpiece-launchers. The Netflix Original film THE PERFECTION is every bit as important a modern horror film, even though "elevated horror" really reeks of highbrow snobbery and a term used as a pass for those who like the movie in question but still regard the genre with scornful dismissal. Regardless of what kind of horror you want to call it, THE PERFECTION is a film best approached knowing as little as possible. It's a deranged gut-punch that weds the stylistic flourishes of Brian De Palma with the shocking ferocity of South Korean OLDBOY and THE HANDMAIDEN auteur Park Chan-wook. It's an out-of-left-field stunner from director Richard Shepard--best known for 2005's THE MATADOR and the 2009 John Cazale documentary I KNEW IT WAS YOU--who co-wrote with RINGER and SUPERNATURAL vets Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder. The filmmakers have so many twists and tricks up their sleeve--and they actually play fair with how they're revealed--that it takes some time before you realize you've been sent in the wrong direction, whether it's a flashback to show you that what you just saw is indeed not what happened, a second-act change in protagonists, or the way they have you continually shifting your alliances with the major characters.






In short, Charlotte Willmore (GET OUT's Allison Williams) is a former cello prodigy who walked away from a promising career to care for her ailing mother for what became ten agonizing years, with quick flashes indicating a suicide attempt and shock treatment in a mental institution. In her teens, Charlotte was a student of renowned cello instructor and arts benefactor Anton Bachoff (Steven Weber) and his wife Paloma (Alaina Huffman), and she reconnects with the two of them when they invite her to a cello symposium in Shanghai. They surprise Charlotte by making her one of the two judges of a youth competition for the next Bachoff scholarship. The other judge is Anton's most prized alum, globally-revered cellist Elizabeth "Lizzie" Wells (Logan Browning). Initially apprehensive of meeting one another (though they glanced at one another as children when a 14-year-old Charlotte left the Bachoff Academy and nine-year-old Lizzie was just arriving), they immediately hit it off, first with mutual respect then sexual attraction, and after several hours of dancing and drinking at a club, they end up spending the night together. Lizzie talks Charlotte into accompanying her on a two-week "rough and tumble" bus tour through off-the-grid parts of China, but the trip gets off to a rocky start when Lizzie can't shake the hangover from the previous night's partying. Things then get exponentially worse on the road after Lizzie becomes deathly ill and the irate driver kicks both women off the bus.






That's about as much of a synopsis--roughly the first 20 minutes of the film--as one can reveal without going into significant spoilers. You'll never see where THE PERFECTION is taking you and even when you think you do, you're wrong. Motives shift, perceptions change, and the rage is so palpable that this will likely go down as a furiously definitive statement of the #MeToo movement in the horror genre. The De Palma worship isn't subtle--drink every time you see a split diopter and you'll be as hungover as Lizzie is on the bus--and it promotes an overwhelming sense of unease and doom while at the same time being so playfully lurid in its style that you're dazzled even as you're cringing and wincing. Shepard, who previously worked with Williams when he helmed several episodes of the HBO series GIRLS, conducts a master class in screw-tightening tension, with the ill-fated bus trip a small masterpiece of nerve-shredding intensity as an unfortunate situation turns horrifying and quickly spirals out of control. It's extraordinarily well-acted by Williams and Browning, both tasked with difficult roles that run the gamut of every conceivable emotion. THE PERFECTION is a film that must be experienced rather than read about. It's as terrifying and disturbing as anything in the "elevated horror" (I'm using the term begrudgingly) movement, and in a perfect world, it would be playing on 2500 screens to astonished audiences who would exit the theater at the end, buzzing over that remarkable final shot and how much this movie fucked them up.


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