The Perfection is a duet played out in the twisting relationship between two women, intersecting and overlapping in ways that make no sense. Until the script provides that key piece of information it conveniently forgot to mention several scenes ago. Psyche!
As you can tell by the numerous split-focus shots, where one half of the screen is an extreme foreground in perfect focus and the other half is the background in perfect focus, writer/director Richard Shepard loves him some Brian De Palma. But his duet sounds mostly like Chan-wook Park’s The Handmaiden. Both Handmaiden and Perfection are about women divided and united by a world unfair to women at best, and more often outright hostile. The context for The Handmaiden was early 20th century Korea, occupied by Imperial Japan. No surprise that women had it hard back then. But the context for The Perfection is the more contemporary, more relevant, and certainly more familiar.
Shepard has style and he knows how to unfurl a thriller. What’s arguably missing from The Perfection is the galvanizing presence that drove his last movie, Dom Hemingway. Although Shepard wrote and directed Dom Hemingway, that movie clearly belonged to Jude Law’s snarling feral performance as a gangster fresh out of prison. If you ever have any doubts that Law is nothing but a proper British pretty boy, pop in the opening scene of Dom Hemingway. I defy you to not then watch the rest of the movie. But The Perfection doesn’t have any equivalent to Law’s energy, which leaves us with Shepard’s plotting and reverence for De Palma. Shepard routinely directed episodes of Girls, which is likely why Perfection is built on Alison Williams’ dazed impassive prettiness (she looks as traumatized as I feel by her turn as Peter Pan in the live NBC telecast). This blandly burned-out quality works for the most part. It’s grimly hilarious when she finally pulls out a meat cleaver and The Perfection knows you know the absurdity of this turn.
But the depths of anguish and anger the script expects from Williams and Logan Browning, similarly bland and pretty, aren’t quite there. Furthermore, the villainy is simple, certain, sneering, and lacks only a mustache to twirl. The Perfection is more concerned with plot twists than making trenchant points. It’s here to titillate, not to educate and not to glean anything meaningful from its extreme finale. Getting woke is all good and well; getting revenge is the real crowd pleaser. But even if The Perfection is a bit glib in pursuit of its surprise twists, presenting trauma as something treatable with a dose of righteous revenge accompanied by the angry beat of rap music, it all comes together in the final scene. Now that was truly unexpected and suddenly the setting all makes sense. If this is where it was leading, all the obvious misdirection, cheap revengesploitation, and convenient villainy have been earned.