Richard Shepard’s The Perfection is akin to an outlandish deep-fried dish that one gets at a carnival or amusement park. It is full of ingredients that do not sound appetizing on paper but prove to be oddly delicious in its own unique way.
Charlotte (Allison Williams) was once the prized musical protégé of prestigious Bachoff Academy of Music, but then her mother became ill and she left that life behind. Now that her mother has passed, Charlotte sets out to reconnect with her former instructor Anton (Steven Weber) and his wife Paloma (Alaina Huffman) and hopefully meet their new star pupil Lizzie (Logan Browning).
Taking a trip to Shanghai, where Anton and Paloma are hosting a contest to admit one new student to the academy, Charlotte and Lizzie immediately hit it off. After things escalate to an intimate level, Charlotte agrees to join Lizzie on a vacation in which they will embark on an authentic “rough and tumble” journey across China. However, their travels take a horrifying turn in a remote part of the country when Lizzie becomes ill with something more sinister than your typical flu.
As the two women attempt to cope with this development, and its gruesome ramifications, it slowly becomes clear that the illness might not be as random as it initially appeared to be.
Layered with dark and disturbing secrets, Shepard’s film unravels like a deformed onion. Each layer more twisted than the previous one. The way that it plays with the cinematic form will no doubt invigorate some viewers and annoy others. Literally rewinding itself on several occasions to reveal key pieces of information, The Perfection raises more questions than answers. When answers do come, they are so gleefully gonzo that one cannot help but want to see how far down the rabbit hole the film travels.
Somehow Shepard even manages to make playing the cello both sexy and freakishly horrifying.
It is this frequent juxtaposition that makes The Perfection feel reminiscent of Matthew Bright’s Freeway; especially in the way it uses dark humour and bold plot turns to address uncomfortable topics such as rape and pedophilia. While Bright used a Little Red Riding Hood framework to examine the disenfranchised in society, Shepard’s film shines its light on those of privilege. Individuals of great wealth and social standing who mask their dubious deeds under the guise of intellectual and artistic pursuits.
As crazy as the film gets, the various twists work because of the performances by Williams and Browning. Each take their characters to the extreme without every becoming cartoonish. No matter how wild this tale gets they are the glue that keeps it together.
The Perfection is a symphony of revenge that is brazen, bizarre and oddly satisfying because of its imperfections.