There’s something inherently creepy about the cello — its strings hit deep, resonating tones, and it is often used in scores to suggest a mood of impending doom. That being said, a movie about a pair of musicians playing the cello doesn’t necessarily carry the same eerie gravitas. “The Perfection” attempts to combine the classical music world with body horror but misses the mark in a confused symphony of scares, grotesque imagery and unintentional comedy.
Charlotte (Allison Williams) and Lizzie (Logan Browning) are the two conduits into the classical music world — two cellists whose lives become increasingly intertwined as former students of the prestigious and insidious Bachoff school. Both have mysterious pasts, but this is each character’s main trait until the very end of the film, making for two generally vapid leads. Charlotte and Lizzie are given little depth or motivation beyond some hazy flashback shots that dot the main plotline.
Playing a former prodigy who left her craft to take care of her ill mother, Williams makes for an an unbelievably unbelievable villain-heroine. The actress also struggles to shake off any of her past characters in a sort of reverse chameleon effect, leading to a strange performance that has loud echoes of her previous work. Most of all, this performance comes off as a lackluster rehash of her role in “Get Out,” in which Williams utilized her blank-eyed stare to a chilling degree. Her performance here brings out the same is-she-good-or-bad dynamic, serving as a coda that no one asked for nor needed to see. Charlotte is unsympathetic, unlikeable and untrustworthy, making for an ultimately unbearable narrator.
Browning fares better than Williams, indulging in some of the campier aspects of the film, but it’s unclear if the line readings — which come off as comedic more often than not — are meant to be funny.
Tonal discrepancies between camp, horror and comedy permeate “The Perfection,” making for a film that doesn’t exactly know what it wants to be. Plotlines that come and go throughout play as more confusing than thrilling. Some of the twistier twists are so blown out of proportion that they come off like horror parody, which ultimately muddles the film’s final act as it devolves into a hurried revenge plot. Director Richard Shepard also repeatedly uses literal rewinds as exposition to reveal the “hidden” sides of some of the twists. It’s a lazy device that comes off as amateurish.
This is also the sort of film in which the title is said in full no fewer than 10 times. Nearly every rhetorical question posed in the film is answered with “the perfection.” Why are the characters doing what they’re doing? “The perfection.” What made them this way? “The perfection.” What is the perfection? “The perfection.” In full, “The Perfection” could use a dose of self-awareness.
“The Perfection” has stylistic echoes of another recent Netflix project, “Velvet Buzzsaw,” employing similar aesthetic choices to explore a niche of art culture. But whereas “Velvet Buzzsaw” at least worked in part by indulging in its ridiculousness, “The Perfection” remains curiously stagnant. This film doesn’t do much to make classical music an interesting backdrop, leaving what is supposedly the characters’ driving life force feeling like something of an afterthought.
What “The Perfection” lacks in substance, it makes up for with brevity. At a crisp 90 minutes, the film moseys along at a fast tempo, at the very least avoiding being overtly boring. The final scene in the film is also striking, landing on a satisfying ending in and of itself, but one that can’t salvage the repeated missteps of the film.
“The Perfection” is a confused mess of movies that could have been made from its composite parts — there’s the intense classical music thriller, the gross-out body horror film and even an intricate revenge plot. But in the end, it’s a mishmash of missed opportunities.