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Film / The Perfection

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The Perfection is a 2019 psychological horror-thriller film directed and co-written by Richard Shepard. The movie premiered at Fantastic Fest on September 20, 2018, and was purchased by Netflix one week later for eventual worldwide release through the platform on May 24, 2019.

Charlotte Willmore (Allison Williams) was a prodigy on the cello in her teenage years, on the course for a promising career that she suddenly quit to take care of her terminally ill mother after she suffered a stroke. After her mother dies years later, she reintegrates with her former music academy's activity by reaching out to academy head Anton and traveling to Shanghai to help select a new student.

There, she meets Elizabeth "Lizzie" Wells (Logan Browning), the new star pupil of the academy — and essentially her replacement. They hit it off immediately, and Lizzie invites Charlotte on vacation for her first break in a long time. However, this trip only proves to be the beginning of both musicians traveling down an increasingly sinister path with shocking consequences.

Since this film is built on major plot twists, watch out for spoilers.

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Upon being cornered, Anton says he's sick and needs help. It doesn't help him.
  • Amputation Stops Spread: Lizzie is made to believe this after seeing imaginary bugs crawling out from her hand, with Charlotte inexplicably producing a meat cleaver and telling her that she "[knows] what [she] has to do".
  • An Arm and a Leg:
    • Charlotte and Lizzie both lose a limb by the end of the film, Lizzie from amputating her hand and Charlotte thanks to getting a knife through her forearm.
    • Anton loses both his arms and legs.
  • And I Must Scream: Rather than kill Anton, Charlotte and Lizzie reduce him to a limbless torso with his eyes and mouth sewn shut and make him listen to a final duet performed by both of them.
  • And This Is for...: Lizzie to Anton as she pummels him with the sharp end of a fire poker near the end.
    Lizzie: This is for what you did to me... (thwack!) ...and for what you did to Charlotte! (thwack!) And this? This is for every other girl who trusted your sick, SORRY ASS! (thwack!)
  • Battle Couple: Charlotte and Lizzie's fight against Anton cements them as a (particularly dysfunctional) version of this.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Charlotte and Lizzie are both permanently disabled, but they succeed in making Anton (and every other member of the academy who was complicit in their abuse) pay, can still play musical instruments and are presumably in love, so the sweet outweighs the bitter.
  • Body Horror: A drugged Lizzie hallucinates that she is vomiting maggots and has bugs crawling under her skin.
  • Duet Bonding: Occurs between Charlotte and Lizzie early on. In a darker turn, one could consider their final duet one as well.
  • Eye Scream: Anton's eyes are stitched up at the end, on top of his mouth being stitched shut as well.
  • Foreshadowing: While Charlotte is in Lizzie's bed, the camera focus on a tattoo of a musical note on her shoulder. The tattoo means that Anton has made them his victims, and that they perform concerts for the staff of the school, while being abused.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Anton's fate at the end, having his eyes and mouth stitched shut and all of his limbs cut off, kept on life support and forced to listen to Charlotte and Lizzie play a perfect composition...after which, they most likely will finish him off.
  • From Bad to Worse: Lizzie's situation in China both before and after The Reveal. Before, being violently ill with a (potentially deadly) disease in a foreign country with no medical help in sight. After, being drugged and gaslit into a paranoid state by a trusted friend/lover.
  • Genre Shift: The film is divided into different "acts" with the tone and genre shifting throughout. At first it seems like a psychological drama, then it seems to be slipping into a zombie horror film, then to psychological thriller that seems like a cross between All About Eve and Black Swan. Then comes the twist. Essentially, it's a psychological horror.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Much of the film's violence is offscreen, with the aftermath shown later.
  • Hallucinations: Charlotte induces them in Lizzie by lying to her and giving Lizzie her late mother's levetiracetam (claiming it's ibuprofen), which has this side effect if mixed with alcohol (she gave it to her as a hangover cure). She then makes Lizzie think there are bugs crawling under her skin (literally) to trick her into cutting off her own hand.
  • Hate Sink:
    • Anton, obviously. At first he comes across as nothing more than a smug, slimy, tactless jerk, then he turns away Lizzie after Charlotte forces her to cut her hand off, saying that her talent is gone, despite the fact that amputees can still play musical instruments, and then it turns out that he's a serial rapist.
    • His equally perverted henchmen Theiss and Jeffrey count as well.
  • I Did What I Had to Do:
    • The Bachoff Method is the only way to achieve true musical perfection, so that's why it has to be done.
    • Charlotte justifies deceiving Lizzie into chopping her own hand off since it was the only way to free her from Anton’s control.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Both Charlotte and Lizzie look conventionally feminine and are in a passionate relationship with each other.
  • Mating Dance: Charlotte and Lizzie dance in a club in an incredibly close and suggestive manner early on, segueing right to them in bed.
  • Mistaken for Disease: Lizzie becomes convinced she's been infected by a terrible mystery disease in the middle of rural China when she gets sick on a bus and sees bugs spreading out of her arm, and she ends up cutting off her hand in a desperate attempt to stop it. Charlotte had actually poisoned her, making her hallucinate the bugs, in order to free her from the poisonous environment of their music academy.
  • Mouth Stitched Shut: Anton's mouth is stitched up at the end, on top of his eyes being stitched shut as well.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Anton Bachoff (pronounced "back off").
  • Official Couple: For better or for worse, Charlotte and Lizzie seem to be this by the end of the film.
  • Once More, with Clarity: Each act is followed by a rewind to earlier events, revealing more of the characters' motivations and showing how certain twists were set up.
  • Primal Fear: Act 2 has a lot of bug related things going on. Including the idea that Lizzie has bugs crawling inside of her.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Played With; initially, Charlotte seems to be a straightforward example with her previous time in a psychiatric ward and violent manipulation of Lizzie, but the reveal of her true motivations puts this into question.
  • Rape and Revenge: Charlotte and Lizzie end up teaming together to take revenge on Anton for raping them, as well as starting a whole abuse cult inside the school.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: A flashback shows Anton naked about to rape Charlotte, shown from her POV, but the film cuts away before the viewer sees anything else.
  • Red Herring:
    • The airborne sickness that gets repeatedly mentioned in China; it has no actual effect on the plot beyond Lizzie's paranoia that she has contracted it.
    • In-universe, Zhang Li at Charlotte's private recital.
  • Reluctant Monster: Anton claims to be this, as do Theiss and Jeffrey. They don't want to do these things, but they have to, because it's the process. Subverted in that when it's time for Charlotte to "pay the price," Theiss and Jeffrey are clearly thrilled about it.
  • The Reveal: Several, notably that Charlotte purposefully caused Lizzie's sickness, that Anton sexually abused both women during their time as his students, and that Charlotte and Lizzie have been working together to seek revenge against him.
  • Sadist Teacher: Anton is Fletcher from Whiplash with added rape for punishment.
  • The Sociopath: Anton is a sadist ephebophile who rapes his female students when they make a mistake. He also never takes blame for his actions, justifying himself as a "taskmaster, not a monster" and "not some random pervert" but just "having a little fun". Later on, he begs for mercy and feigns remorse, saying that he is "sick" and needs help, showing that all of his justifications are bullshit.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Charlotte gives Lizzie what she thinks are hangover pills but are in fact seizure medicine, whose side effects include vomiting and hallucinations.
  • Take Me Instead: Charlotte proposes this to Anton over Zhang Li. It turns out that was Anton's plan all along.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Subverted, the guilt trip that Anton plays on his students when they are unhappy about their punishments; being accepted to Bachoff is supposedly a great honor and they should be thankful for the opportunity.
  • Use Their Own Weapon Against Them: In the climax, Lizzie and Charlotte both attack Anton using kitchen knives. Anton manages to wrest Charlotte's knife from her and mutilate her arm before being knocked out by Lizzie.
  • The Voiceless: Theiss and Jeffrey, Anton's fellow music teachers. They're supposedly great musicians themselves but we never see or hear them play, making this an informed ability.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Lizzie is shown vomiting multiple times, as well as a man in Shanghai in act one.
  • Villains Want Mercy: "I'm sick! I can get help!"
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Charlotte drugs Lizzie and makes her hallucinate that she is infested with bugs, causing her to cut off her hand. Initially believed to be because of jealousy, Charlotte did it to save Lizzie from Anton's control.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Anton's M.O., just replacing "hit" with "rape".