Review: ‘The Perfection’ is a Shocking, Twisty Thriller in Four Parts

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Image courtesy of Netflix.
Images courtesy of Netflix.

On Friday May 24, Netflix began streaming The Perfection, a horror thriller starring Allison Williams and Logan Browning. You’ve probably heard of this movie by now — chatter about its captivating and unusual visual style and the absolutely unpredictable and mind-blowing surprises (and there are several) is running rampant all over social media.

There is also no easy way to talk about this movie without spoiling the hell out of it. So I will give a very general, almost completely spoiler-free overview of what the movie is about and why you should see it immediately. (There will be trigger warnings at the end of the review that are inherently spoilery, but they are necessary.)

The Perfection is told in four parts and focuses on Charlotte (Williams) and Lizzie (Browning), two elite cellists who attended the same conservatory, but years apart. In the first part, called “Mission,” we learn that Charlotte was the star student at a New England music school but had to leave her training early to take care of her sick mother. Ten years later, in present time, her mother has recently passed away, and Charlotte has reconnected with her former mentors, Anton (Steven Weber) and his wife Paloma (Alaina Huffman) in Shanghai. There, she meets Lizzie, the girl who replaced her at the conservatory as numero uno and who has achieved remarkable worldwide success.

Charlotte sees Lizzie for the first time. Images courtesy of Netflix.

Over the course of the next 24 hours, Charlotte and Lizzie become quick friends, perform a duet, go dancing, spend the night together, and run off on an adventure to tour the rural countryside of China.

And then all things go straight to hell in short order.

Over the course of the next three parts (“Detour,” “Home,” and “Duet”), the film becomes less drama and more grindhouse — less Black Swan and more Hostel. There is gore, there are bugs (LOTS of bugs), there are stitches (LOTS of stitches), and there is even a meat cleaver. And the punches keep on coming all the way through to the shocking finale that is reminiscent of Paul Krendler’s exit in Hannibal. (Yes, I’m referring to that scene with Ray Liotta…)

The film itself is visually stunning. Director Richard Shepard (who directed Williams in Girls) reveals plot twists by literally rewinding scenes and telling them from different points of view (and he does this more than once, and it works), which gives the audience just enough context to blow their minds. It’s an unusual but refreshing way to tell a story, and the effect becomes a trigger of sorts to remind us that, if we dared believe we finally had an idea as to what was truly going on in this movie, we were dead wrong.

There is a magnificent scene in the first act that splices together Charlotte and Lizzie’s duet on stage with their, well, duet in the bedroom. This scene is not only beautiful in its own right, but it is so unlike any other scene (and intentionally so) that it makes the shock after the first plot twist is revealed so damn acute.

Shepard also makes use of diopter shots (like in the gif below), which put elements in the foreground and the background in focus at the same time. This can have a jarring and haunting effect that ups the general creepiness and anxiety of the scene.

Charlotte performs for Anton. Images courtesy of Netflix.

Overall, The Perfection is a fun, wild, disturbing ride that should satisfy any horror fan. Williams and Browning are both phenomenal in their roles, and they wear the protagonist/antagonist/back-to-protagonist/maybe-she’s-the-antagonist-after-all suits well. Weber plays a brilliantly slimy Anton, flipping between father figure and sociopath effortlessly, and Huffman (whose Paloma deserved much more screen time, honestly) is downright frightening in her portrayal of his steadfastly loyal wife.

As mentioned previously, there are some trigger warnings I must mention. And if they spoil any elements of the plot, so be it — I could have used these warnings myself: there are themes of sexual abuse and trauma, including the threat of rape, in the latter half of the film.

The Perfection is currently streaming on Netflix.

Have you seen The Perfection? What did you think about it? Let us know in the comments below!

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Margaret has been a writer and editor for Nerds and Beyond since 2018. She loves Grogu, Doctor Who, and The OA. And she's still salty about #WaywardSisters. Find her on Twitter and TikTok at @MargNation.
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