Psychological thrillers are few and far between, and then most of them tend to become either too abstruse to absorb or they suffer from a laggardly plot that doesn’t hold up the performances that come with it. Richard Shepard’s Netflix original feature The Perfection, however, is not one of them. Even with the plethora of content that Netflix has, there are only a handful of films that can do justice to this genre. And interestingly, most of them fly under the radar with people not talking about them as much as they should. Amongst Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam (2018), Patrick Kack-Brice’s Creep (2014) and Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game (2017), only the latter found some attention only for the fact of it being a Stephen King adaptation (Isn’t everything a Stephen King adaptation these days ?).
The Perfection‘s appeal lies in its subversions. What starts out like an arthouse film about a prestigious music school and the life of its two prodigies, soon metamorphoses into a disturbing pulp horror, that again transforms into a brutal revenge story fueled by sexual abuse. However, this is not the only subversion that I am talking about. The film also plays with perception as we see Charlotte, a cellist prodigy who had to leave it all to care for her mother, befriend Lizzie who now has all the fame and respect that should have come to her. Even though the logical response from us as viewers would be for this to turn into a caustic relationship, we see Charlotte putting it all in her past and committing herself to starting anew. As one of the most celebrated lost talents of the Music school they both go to, Charlotte and Lizzie are asked to play a piece for the gathering which, despite Charlotte’s lack of practice, is as transcendent as if she had never left. Bound by a common destiny, the two girls fall in love and go on a trip together. That’s when things start to go wrong and the subversions in their relationship start to surface.
You realize that the years of watching movies have had a Pavlovian effect on your brain that accepts, far too quickly, sequences that would otherwise make no sense on paper. Shepard knows this and uses this conditioning to settle you into the narrative until he snags the carpet from under your feet.
When plot-twists appear seemingly out of nowhere and yet make for a coherent narrative, your entire perception for the film changes. You feel as if you had been watching a different movie all this time and then the director decided to let you know that you believed a lot more than you should have. It is revelations like these that movie-buffs like me live for. You realize that the years of watching movies have had a Pavlovian effect on your brain that accepts, far too quickly, sequences that would otherwise make no sense on paper. Shepard knows this and uses this conditioning to settle you into the narrative until he snags the carpet from under your feet.
A precisely balanced endeavour like this would not hold up if not for its compelling performances. Allison Williams as Charlotte and Logan Browning as Lizzie keep up beautifully with the subversions as they hop from being confident to vulnerable to being deadly. Their portrayal as the prodigal cellists is authentic and plays into their motivations intricately as it flows like an undercurrent that connects their pasts and their present. When an instrument as artful and serene as a cello is used as a horror device and a great one at that, you know you have something special on your hands.
I should stop now. I have already said too much. Just go watch it already.