Richard Shepard’s Netflix nasty opens on the story of Charlotte Willmore: an apparently troubled yet brilliant former-cellist, played with mask-wearing mystery by Get Out’s Allison Williams. Charlotte had studied at a prestigious music facility in Boston, Massachusetts, and was destined for great things until her mother suffered a stroke, forcing her to give up a glittering career and become a full-time carer instead. Upon her mother’s death, a decade later, Charlotte makes the decision to reconnect with the school’s tutors – Anton (Steven Weber) and Paloma (Alaina Huffman) – and is invited to China to help select the student recipient of that year’s scholarship.
On her arrival, she’s greeted by a billboard of the school’s latest prodigy, Lizzie Wells (Logan Browning). Lizzie is everything Charlotte wanted to be: rich, successful, with a back catalogue of albums and a profile in The New York Times. What is initially set up as a jealous and competitive relationship, however, soon turns sexual as the pair flirt, dance, and eventually romp against a stock-footage Shanghai skyline. When Lizzie is struck down by a mysterious illness the following morning – one that sees her right arm ripple with, what seem to be, insects under the skin – you’re left to wonder whether Charlotte is to blame. Not least because she is rather quick to offer her assistance with a meat cleaver.
And that, really, is all you can say about the plot of The Perfection without giving too much away. It’s an ambitiously structured film; one that strives for the nonlinear twists and turns of Korean maestro Park Chan-Woo, but lands a little closer to the Hollywood B‑movies that inspired him. No bad thing in itself – and undoubtedly an intention of former Girls director Shepard – however it’s worth noting that the twists feel less of a surprise for the fact that they happen, and more for the manner in which they do: The Perfection veering through several different tones (body horror, black comedy, Brian De Palma-esque mystery) before filling the viewer in with only ten minutes to spare. Whether Shepard earns some of his more unsavoury shocks is questionable (in particular a final third that jars with the playfulness of earlier reveals). However Williams excels in bringing the same something-beneath-the-surface performance to the film as she did for the wickedly evil Rose in 2017’s Get Out. Not quite perfection, then, but a tightly-plotted movie that stands up to repeat viewing, should you have the stomach for it.
The Perfection is released 24 May.