*Trigger warning for sexual assault and rape*
On May 24, 2019 Netflix added it’s newest horror thriller, The Perfection, starring Allison Williams and Logan Browning as prodigy cellists who are now adults and dealing with trauma. I know more and more of my reviews are requiring some spoilers, but honestly I think that says a lot about the sophistication of horror right now. The more intricate the storytelling is, the more difficult it is to discuss without some spoilers; and this is a movie that requires some spoilers to discuss.
So, if you want to go watch the film before reading my review I will say this: it is not what you are expecting, and that’s all I can say without giving things away.
And spoilers in…
So if you’re still here I’m assuming you’ve already watched it, or you don’t mind spoilers, so here we go:
Charlotte was a student at the Bachoff school for promising young cellists who had to leave school when her mother became terminally ill. Now a grown woman, Charlotte reaches back out to the head of the school to re-join them after her mother dies. When she meets Anton and his wife Paloma in Shanghai where they are recruiting new students, Charlotte meets the newest pride of Bachoff, Lizzie. The two instantly have sexual chemistry as well as immense professional respect for each other, and their night ends in a sexual encounter….and that’s when things get really insane.
When they wake up after their night together, Lizzie is visibly ill and tells Charlotte how bad she feels. Charlotte and Lizzie both chalk it up to a bad hangover, but as their day progresses and they begin the trip Lizzie planned things get progressively worse. Lizzie throws up what appears to be bugs, and they are kicked off the bus, and once off the bus Lizzie hallucinates bugs underneath her skin. Charlotte gives her a cleaver, and Lizzie chops off her own hand in order to save herself from what’s inside of her.
AND THAT’S ONLY LIKE THE FIRST 30 MINUTES OF THE MOVIE.
I would absolutely categorize this movie as a psychological rape revenge horror film. I know that sounds like a lot of descriptors, but it all works together so well. I’ve said before that I don’t tend to do well with rape in films (check out my post about the film Revenge), but this is no typical rape revenge film. It slowly is revealed that the men who work and run Bachoff have been using their students to fulfill their twisted sexual desires…and yes, when they are children.
Quickly (or maybe not actually so quickly, but it FEELS like break neck speed) we’re thrown into what we think is going to be revenge against Charlotte, but what really ends up being a plot to take down the monster that runs the school. Charlotte is brought back to the school and put in the “sanctuary” where the men make their “star students” play extremely complex pieces for them, and then rape them if they make mistakes. There is a “religious” implication to what the headmaster says in Charlotte’s flashbacks – that playing perfectly honors the gods, and in lieu of perfect playing sex fills that role.
Fucked up right?
Well, the film then does a total 180 again and we find out that Lizzie is working with Charlotte who had drugged Lizzie with a hallucinogen so she would cut off her hand and no longer be able to play the cello…effectively breaking her ties to the school. Lizzie and Charlotte appear to be in love, and by the end of the film they have totally destroyed the man who tried to destroy them.
So let’s chat about the actual mechanics of the movie:
First of all, it’s NUTS. It is absolutely buck wild and there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about that. Objectively, I don’t think it’s a very good movie when it comes to the actual technical side of the movie, and even the pacing is a little weird…but by golly if it’s not absolutely enamoring, then I am a field mouse. The appeal of the film is the utter absurdity and mayhem caused by two (queer) women, one of whom is a WOC and they’re taking down the patriarchy in their life. It is really beautifully shot, and both Logan Browning (Lizzie) and Allison Williams (Charlotte) give incredible performances. It is the type of psychological horror that you think about for weeks afterwards.
Be careful, it isn’t for the faint of heart.
In general I don’t tend to watch rape revenge films. Recently, my sister watched I Spit on Your Grave and was convinced I’d been the one who recommended it to her…but I’ve never seen the film, nor do I intend on watching it. A friend had Last House on the Left on a list of horror movies to watch this October and I told her that, while it was totally fine if she and other friends in our group wanted to watch it, but I didn’t think I could watch it with them. Rape and sexual assault is one of the few things I can’t stomach in horror, not to mention I think it’s truly the lowest hanging fruit to scare women…but both The Perfection and Revenge focus on the women turning into superheroes and taking down the men who hurt them quickly and brutally within the first 30 minutes or so. Movies like I Spit on Your Grave or Last House on the Left focus primarily on the brutality against the women for the majority of the movie and their revenger for the LAST 30 minutes or less, and that is why I choose to not watch them.
If I’m going to watch a movie in which women are brutalized, then I want the majority of the film to focus on them becoming badasses that cut off dicks and murder the men that did it.
This film doesn’t have actual on-screen rape scenes, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing…especially when you consider the fact that both Charlotte and Lizzie have been at Bachoff since they were small girls, and they both were seen as “special” when they were between 10 and 13 years old. Charlotte’s character is unbelievably resilient, and the fact that she was able to break free of the hold the school had on her and then help Lizzie break free of them as well shows that the writers were concerned with building strong female characters. Unlike a lot of movies where a man saves a woman…not only is a woman the one doing the saving, but a queer woman saving the woman she has fallen in love with.
Is it a little damsel in distress-y? Yes.
Do I care? No.
I love a good lesbian relationship that’s not just there for the benefit of the straight men in the film or audience. Lizzie and Charlotte fall in love (granted, over shared trauma), and help save each other.
This movie just helps further prove the lack of queer representation in horror, and honestly the lack of feminism in the genre as well. We need more characters like Charlotte and Lizzie, and preferably not only in rape revenge.
Have you seen The Perfection? What were your thoughts? Were you as obsessed with it as I was?