By Bradley Sutherland
It began with a school bus sequence that snatched your appetite and punted it into the toilet. An extremely intense and unnerving scene that set the tone for the rest of the movie. One that peaked twice, and the second peak WASN’T Lizzie shitting her dress on the side of the road. From there, all hunger was curbed. The Perfection was a lowkey masterpiece, yes, but what made it so impossible to snack to, other than just your standard case of highway shits? Let’s look at three other reasons you’ll probably starve while watching this movie.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
It’s hard to chew with your jaw locked shut, and The Perfection is essentially a 90-minute panic attack. I knew nothing going into this movie, only seeing the teaser when it first dropped. From that, along with the first 10 minutes, you already suspect Allison Williams’s character, Charlotte, is obsessed/jealous of Logan Browning’s character, Lizzie (both going toe-to-toe in a feature length bout of heavyweight acting, by the way), and that something kinda crazy is probably going to go down. Both were childhood cello prodigies under the same master. Lizzie still plays at the highest level. Charlotte does not. I’ve snacked to premises much more concerning than this.
In the beginning, the tone is maybe a little unsettling in that there is certainly a small sense of dread, with the comatose stare of a mom sprinkled with quick splices of hyper violence in the first scene (which I’ll further discuss in Reason 3), but you’re nowhere near the level of anxiety this movie is about to take you to. Once you board the bus for Western China, you’re pretty much fucked.
On the bus, Lizzie’s health rapidly deteriorates, from gnarly hangover to maggot-filled window puke. I used to think Kristen Wiig force-feeding herself an almond to prove she was okay after giving the rest of the bridal party food poisoning was the greatest depiction of someone with an upset tummy ever – chewing without her bottom and top rows of teeth ever fully separating, etc. – but it comes nowhere near Logan Browning completely losing her shit over failing health. The glazed-over look in her eyes, the whispered moan she gives after guzzling an entire bottle of water, the panic that sets in when she realizes puke maggots aren’t a typical hangover symptom. You feel everything she feels, including her hysteria when she doesn’t know what is happening or what will happen to her.
There is lots of screaming, a towering language barrier, and the constant drone of a stringy single note taking its time toward crescendo. They finally get the driver to stop, and Browning pulls off an Oscar worthy I’m About to Shit My Dress shuffle as she makes her way off the bus. She then shits on the highway, a good Samaritan hands Charlotte a baby wipe, and Charlotte cleans Lizzie up.
THEN THEY BOTH GET BACK ON THE BUS.
Realistically, the movie probably ends here. Serious help is getting called, regardless of language barrier. But Lizzie has to get back on the bus so she can build back up to hysterics and bang her head against a window in order to knock herself out.
After her third or fourth bang, everything goes silent, although you can still feel the suffocation from everyone’s yelling, the chaos taking over the bus, and it perfectly mirrors how you are now feeling inside. The only noise in your head is Lizzie’s ringing ears, and you can’t peel your eyes away from the screen because you’re in both a state of shock and some sort of weird and twisted elation.
They get kicked off the bus, and the only English speaking dude tells them to walk up to the next town. Then Lizzie pukes again, and gross ass bugs scurry around in it, and then the bugs are inside of her arm, moving up to her hand, and there’s lots more screaming, and then Charlotte tosses Lizzie a machete and Lizzie shops off her own bug-infested hand.
Then… it rewinds to them back in bed, and you have a micro sense of relief. You take your first breath in four minutes, massage your jaw to unlock it, and step outside for a smoke.
I smoked three.
2. The twists will knot your stomach
After relaxing my jaw and treating my anxiety with nicotine, I press play and am back with Lizzie and Charlotte, pillow talking after their spicy affair. But then it walks you back through what really happened to make Lizzie sick and eventually cut off her hand.
Dun Dun Duuuuuuun. **Whispers** “It was Charlotte.”
This first twist isn’t too crazy, sure, because you already suspected Charlotte came out there to do more than just sleep with Lizzie, but the unveiling of such meticulous planning on her behalf now has you scared a little shitless of her. (That, and perhaps remembering the last time you probably saw Allison Williams on screen, she was portraying one of the most terrifying, Way Under The Radar movie villains in the last 15-20 years). Oh, and to top it all off, they reveal this twist to you pretty much just so they can end with Lizzie chopping her own hand off… AGAIN!
The next twisty part follows immediately after, when a one-handed Lizzie shows up to the aptly (and subtly) named Bachoff Academy, only to get turned away by Anton, after his reinforcing of Lizzie’s suspicion that Charlotte drugged her and made her cut off her hand in a jealous rage.
The latter sits uneasy with you as well, as we now get the sense that Anton and his academy are more sinister than we’ve been led to believe. Not only does he just kick his best prodigy to the curb when she is no longer “useful” to him, but he pits her against his OTHER best student of all time, which is also when a deeper commentary of women getting pit against other women starts to emerge. But, until the very end, you’re in no shape to be thinking of any greater meaning or message.
The big twist comes in the final act, when you realize Charlotte and Lizzie plotted Charlotte’s capture and delivery to Anton via another rewind and walk-back-through. A twist to end the first act only to kinda twist in the second and then really twist again in the third is enough to keep your stomach too knotted for any reasonable and enjoyable snacking.
3. Graphic Violence and Imagery
If the breakneck intensity and relentless twisting aren’t enough to curb your appetite, the graphic violence and imagery will linger with you all the way to breakfast.
You notice this within the first seconds of the movie, when the filmmaker, Richard Shepard, throws a nasty nod to Fight Club’s Tyler Durden. Except instead of splicing in naked pictures of Brad Pitt into family films, Shepard injects a quick scene of Charlotte digging into her wrist with a knife, followed by her strapped to a hospital bed and receiving electroshock therapy. It’s super quick, but the cut is much more than a slit, so it’s enough to burn into your brain and singe your dreams for the next couple nights.
The school bus scene is also graphic, with all the pooping and puking and amputation that unfolds. But it’s the last few scenes that almost made me text Ariel and Allan: “Nevermind. I don’t know if we can do this movie on air.”
You see, as I was watching this for the first time (yes, I watched it twice; more on that at the end), I text our group chat saying I knew my pick for the podcast and that it was a mind fuck and that they should definitely check it out. But then you discover that not only is Anton a serial pedophile rapist, but he’s about to claim his next victim — and because of how unsettling this movie has become, at this point, you’re not entirely convinced you’re gonna be spared from seeing something too graphic or shocking, so you turn white and cross your fingers the film doesn’t take it that far.
Basically, it’s been set up for Anton to torture both Charlotte and his newest prodigy by forcing Charlotte to play The Perfection while threatening to take out any mistakes on his newest and much younger student. Of course, Charlotte makes a mistake, and you’re fucking terrified for the little girl but hold on to hope it won’t go there and that she’ll be saved. But then it starts to go there, and you get ready to turn off your computer as Lizzie unwraps her Bruce Campbell nub and thrusts it near a restrained Charlotte’s legs, who is being held by Anton’s two perverted henchmen, but before it gets X-rated, the henchmen collapse to the floor, just as you refrain from clawing your eyes out, and Lizzie and Charlotte sweetly embrace. You’re now waaaaaay too fucked up in the head to enjoy any adequate sense of relief, but you don’t feel as anxious anymore because you’re numb to any and all feelings, probably for the rest of your life.
After a couple slow, recuperating breaths, this movie has the goddamn nerve to ramp it up even more with it’s last two scenes. First, a gory stab fest, with Lizzie and Charlotte breaking batshit and stabbing the fuck out of Anton. Anton does get the upper hand for a moment, but only to show you another huge knife sawing through Charlotte’s arm, this time from wrist to fucking elbow. Lizzie eventually saves Charlotte and then hacks up Anton with a machete.
But did she kill him?
In what is the one of the creepiest and most fucked up and darkly comical and weirdly enjoyable images in recent movie history, we see a bloody Charlotte and Lizzie performing a spidery/yin-yangy/lotus-inspired duet on a single cello. And Guess who they are playing for: Anton’s squirming, limbless torso, apparently being kept alive by Charlotte the Psycho Nurse. Then the title card pops up, and you go take a shower.
No snacks for you.
If I were to recommend a snack for this movie, however, it would have to be a PayDay because this movie is as nutty as a professor. Insane, over-the-top, super unnerving. But it’s also having sick and twisted fun with dark and disturbing material, which is probably why this movie works as well as it does.
I’ll use the splice cut of Charlotte slitting her wrist as an analogy for my experience with the move as a whole: the shock and awe was so in my face it made it weirdly easier (err less harder??) to digest. There was no hiding from it or pretending it wasn’t there. It simply had to be confronted.
It’s why the most bananananananas ending you’ll see this year is so satisfying – it’s a both a fresh take and powerful statement on female survivors. Instead of a specific call to action or deep dive into where such behavior comes from and how it’s enabled, perpetuated, protected, etc., The Perfection simply just asks, “What if my survivors ‘deal’ with their horrible trauma by just snapping and torturing the dude who raped them?” Then it dares you to fault them for it.
Making the movie so over the top then seems necessary as perhaps nothing more than the In Your Face embodiment of the frustrated and pent-up expression: “FUCK YOU! WE’RE SICK AND TIRED OF THIS SHIT!!!”
As a story, it’s unique, it’s a mind fuck, it’s refreshingly and daringly twisted. But, by the time the credits role, it also feels like it was one big exclamation point to a message we should already be standing behind.
Oh, and the most disturbing part about this movie is… you’ll want to watch it again.
*Tune in Sunday 6-9-2019 to see if Ariel and Allan feel the same as me when we discuss this movie together and in MUCH greater detail on the Are You Still Snacking podcast.