There are multiple times during Netflix’s The Perfection, from director Richard Shepard, where it seems it’s going in one very specific genre direction only to swerve right instead of left. And then throws in a U-turn for good measure. Ultimately, that’s what makes The Perfection so thrilling to watch, even if some of the beats seem a little hard to justify.
Starring Allison Williams (Get Out) and Logan Browning (Dear White People), the film follows two music prodigies, Charlotte and Lizzie, who’s first encounter with each other turns into something more sinister than two rival star pupils. After Charlotte’s mother dies, she reconnects with her old music teacher, Anton (Steven Weber), in China, where he’s holding try outs for new students to join his school. Lizzie, who, after Charlotte left the school years before, took Charlotte’s place as Anton’s favorite student, is also in China to be a judge for the tryouts. The two meet, play music together, and spend the night dancing, partying, and sleeping together. Lizzie decides she’s going on a two-week vacation from music and asks Charlotte to join her. From there, things get pretty twisty.
It’s hard to justify Charlotte’s motivations, once they’ve been made clear, even as you’re rooting for her. Williams gives off some of that same manic energy that she did in Get Out, while still giving Charlotte moments of innocence. Browning is downright incredible, especially when the pressures of perfection start making Lizzie spiral.
The set pieces are beautiful, and the music does a wonderful job of turning even the more horrifying images into something darkly captivating.
At times a moving portrait of the beauty of music, especially as a way to showcase the connection between Lizzie and Charlotte, the film seemingly transitions into its multiple genre set pieces so that every turn feels as if it’s building on the last. One particular sequence, set on the claustrophobic space of a bus in the middle of nowhere, amps up the paranoia of the spread of disease in tight spaces. It’s almost impossible to guess what type of story The Perfection is trying to tell until it hits its last act. The revelations there are both horrifying and deeply unsettling. It’s a film for the era of Me Too, but there’s an underlying sense of melancholy to the whole affair; the last remaining question — is this what we’ve come to? — leaves no sense of satisfaction. Perhaps that’s the point.