Hello, everyone! Welcome to the #MeToo era! A lot of things have changed since that big bad wolf Harvey Weinstein went away. We’ve reached pay parity in Hollywood, women make up 50 percent of directors, and female characters are finally getting the complex, nuanced portrayals they deserve. Congratulations, everybody. We did it.
Wait…what was that? Are you saying none of that has happened? Are you saying we went through all of the #MeToo tweets and outrage and dramatic high-profile condemnations of creepy men and all we got was a trashy rapesploitation film that rips off infinitely superior films like The Handmaiden and Black Swan? This is what we get? The Perfection?!!!
Well, fuck that, people. This movie is not perfection. And I’m not even gonna try and be impartial about this hacky porn fantasy disguised as a feminist film.
Synopsis: After leaving the prestigious Bachoff Cello Conservatory to care for her ill mother, cello prodigy Charlotte disappears from the world of professional music entirely. A decade later she appears in Shanghai to find that Lizzie, another cello prodigy, has taken her place as the conservatory director’s favorite. The girls quickly form an attraction, but there’s more to Charlotte’s intentions than meet the eye. Is she really out to help Lizzie? Or does she have her own plans in mind?
You know when the moderators were being idiots during the 2016 debates and they were like Hillary, say one nice thing about Trump, and she said, I like his kids? Well, I’m gonna be very HRC about this movie and say that the one thing I like about this movie is the trailer. I like the trailer because it’s everything that the movie isn’t. It’s scary, for one. It’s well-edited. It’s lush, mysterious, and suspenseful.
The opening shot of the trailer presents the type of narrative that instantly draws you in. Why are there two beautiful women alone in the wilderness? Why is one of them sick? Why does one of them have a meat cleaver? Why is there a cello??? This trailer is a good one because it leaves you with many questions and merely hints at the answers.
Not so for the film. I’ll say one more nice thing about The Perfection: it has a strong first act. Like the trailer, it’s mysterious. It’s well-shot. There’s an engaging romance between the two leads. There’s an incredibly suspenseful scene on a bus in rural China. But the film quickly squanders its carefully constructed mystery by explaining, in minute detail, the twisty twist of its first plot twist. Instead of letting viewers infer the plot-twist through a well-crafted story, the film hand-delivers every piece of information the viewer needs to know. The twist garners no true shock value because it’s predictable (if you’ve seen the type of film that The Perfection so cheaply apes) and because it’s spoon-fed. All cleverness goes out the window.
But maybe I’m being too harsh about the first plot-twist. I have the upper-hand in this situation because I’ve seen the very movies that The Perfection imitates. Black Swan provides the basis for Charlotte and Lizzie’s sadistic lesbian romance and its overarching theme of art-turned-obsession. Then there’s The Handmaiden, which honestly ought to sue The Perfection for stealing its super twisty four-part structure. If you’ve seen either of these films, watching The Perfection is akin to watching a toddler dress up in her mother’s clothes. It’s cute, but it ain’t sophisticated.
I don’t care so much that The Perfection copies other better movies. Lots of movies do that and they do it well. The Spanish film Mirage, for instance, which also happens to be on Netflix, is almost an exact rip-off of the American film Frequency, but it was still an enjoyable film. The Perfection’s fatal flaw is that it copies better films without understanding them, but pretending like it does.
The Perfection believes that it’s a feminist film in the same vein as Black Swan and The Handmaiden but it’s not. It skims the surface of these movies and mistakes that for their depths. Just because it lightly touches on obsession, femininity, sexuality, and assault, does not mean it understands those things. Black Swan is a feminist film because it explores how the desire for perfection in a rigidly gendered environment can push people to insanity. The film actually picks apart what “femininity” means and showcases how it can be a physically and emotionally violent concept. The Handmaiden, too, asks the viewers to think about how femininity affects its characters and reaches the ultimate conclusion that femininity is like a cage. Yes, the film is violent, hyper-sexual, and features sexual assault, but it’s not an exploitative film. No aspect of the film is presented without context or commentary.
The same cannot be said for The Perfection. It doesn’t delve deeply into any of the concepts that it pretends to explore. Femininity? What’s that? Just girls wearing dresses of course. The worst part of being a woman? Rape, duh. How do art, obsession, and femininity combine? Through dresses and rape, of course. And because this movie is trying to be counter-culture, it makes the main characters lesbian, but it’s really hard to tell if the film did this because the story called for it or because it was trying to be “edgy” like Black Swan.
The Perfection was of course written by a 50-year-old man. It was also directed by that same 50-year-old man. There was one woman who helped write it, but obviously any of her input was overridden by a guy who thinks a plot about punishment by gang rape is a nuanced take on sexual assault and not just, I don’t know, a category on PornHub. My point is that this movie is taking the thoughts and themes of other superior feminist films, wearing them like a mantle, and pretending that they’re of the same calibre. Don’t be fooled. This film is not, as The New York Times says, #MeToo Horror. But why not let the director himself explain it?
“This movie could easily have been trash, and some people might think that, but I think it’s more than that,” Shepard said. “It’s got a lot going on.”
You’re right, Shepard. It does have a lot going on. A lot of trash.
If you want to read an excellent piece that has a far more sophisticated take on why this film is a whole lot of trash, read Vox’s piece here.