It didn’t take long for the arrival of the first post-Peele horror smash. The influence of the American director looms large over The Perfection, with Richard Shepard’s brutal puzzler arriving with a murderous glint in its eye and a bloody knife clamped in its fist.
When former cello prodigy Charlotte’s (Allison Williams) mother dies after a long illness, she heads to Shanghai to meet Anton (Steven Weber), the head of her alma mater, the Bachoff Academy of Music. Anton and his wife Paloma (Alaina Huffman) console Charlotte and ask her to help judge potential new students with Lizzie (Logan Browning), Charlotte’s replacement at Bachoff.
After the pair watch a frisson-filled student audition performance, they go clubbing and have sex. During the hungover morning after, Charlotte agrees to embark on a coach tour of rural China with Lizzie. Unfortunately for our young lovers, their trip’s inauspicious start sees Lizzie vomiting up shocking neon bile awash with crawling bugs all over the coach window. Things then take a surprising and vicious turn when the hapless duo are ejected from the bus in the middle of nowhere.
The debate over what constitutes a spoiler and to what extent a critic should reveal one has reached idiotic extremes among some in the online film community. Some diehard fans of huge franchises express disgust at the mention of any plot detail while the overwhelming majority of sane readers and writers agree that some discussion of what actually happens in a movie is necessary, as long as one does not give the whole game away. With this thinking in mind, The Perfection is best enjoyed with the synopsis above. It gives a sufficient flavor of what to expect but doesn’t get proceedings out of the first act.
Shepard, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder, has fashioned a storming small-scale twister that’s as gory and fiendish as a primo ’80s slasher–and as clever as, yes, one of Jordan Peele’s post-modern masterpieces. Williams also brings the demonic mischief she exuded in Get Out, while Browning’s charismatic toughness is sure to win over audiences and Weber excels as the slimiest of scholars.
There are several key twists and while some might uncharitably be called gimmicks and may be telegraphed too overtly, there aren’t many films around right now that deliver such excitement. It’s a frantic, demented film with several toe-curling scenes that will make all but the hardiest splatter aficionados wince.
Carnage and bloody fun aside, it’s best if viewers don’t think too deeply. As we get to grips with the horrific true nature of Bachoff Academy, we do wonder exactly what Shepard is saying beyond making the general point that abusers often exist within educational institutions. Bachoff could be a metaphor for rotten modern America though. Every other American film of late seems to have one, after all.
Regardless, detractors can quibble over meaning and whether this excellent film needs to have allegorical heft. The rest of us can just carry on being delighted that The Perfection very nearly lives up to its name with its delicious blend of sex, shocks, and savagery.