Netflix’s ‘The Perfection’ Is a Sublime and Nightmarish Thriller
Two years after her creepy turn in “Get Out,” Allison Williams takes on the lead role in another horror, “The Perfection.” Williams stars as the mysterious Charlotte, a former cello prodigy who was on the path to greatness before the illness of her mother interrupted her studies at a prestigious music conservatory in Boston. After being away for ten years, Charlotte materializes in Shanghai for a scholarship competition event sponsored by her former school and teacher, Anton (Steven Weber). There, she also comes face to face with Elizabeth Wells (Logan Browning), the beautiful and gifted young woman who replaced her at school and has the career that she might have if fate hadn’t determined otherwise.
“The Perfection” reunites Williams with Richard Shepard, the director and writer who helmed multiple episodes of “Girls” throughout its whole run of six seasons. Shepard, who also co-wrote this film, recently spoke with Entertainment Voice about the project in depth, which is miles away from the majority of his previous projects, which tend to focus on romance and the humorous aspects of the human experience.
“Part of what I love to do is mix things up a little bit. Doing the same thing over and over again isn’t as fun as trying to tell new and different stories,” he explained.
After hitting it off at the event, Charlotte and Lizzie end up in bed together, but what starts off as a sexy romp turns into something else entirely after the pair hop aboard a bus out of the sprawling Chinese metropolis. Shepard revealed how he found inspiration in the works of Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, the man behind psychological thrillers such as “Stoker” and “The Handmaiden.”
“I feel like what they do in those movies and some of these Korean films, is they play with structure and storytelling in such a crazy way. It’s not really like it’s a film with twists in it,” he explained. “I felt, maybe there’s a way we can do this in an American movie, still have characters you care about, still have interesting storytelling, but do it in a heightened way.”
Charlotte is an especially intriguing character, not only due to Shepard’s script (he wrote the role specifically for her), but also because of the ominous energy Williams brings to the table; she keeps the viewer guessing regarding her motives and true nature at every turn. The director spoke at length about the actress and his working relationship with her.
“What I found interesting about Allison is, I feel like there’s times when you don’t really know what she’s thinking, and then she can just let it out very subtly. So I thought it would be interesting to use that to our advantage…. Allison has a very unique quality as an actor in that way. Plus, she’s my friend, and I try to work with my friends as much as possible, because making movies is so tough and it’s really helpful to be surrounded by people you’ve worked with before.”
Weber is also a pal of Shepard’s, as the two previously worked together on multiple television pilots.
“When you’re making a movie for not a lot of money, you like to turn to people who you know are going to be there for you. When you can’t back up a Brink’s truck to pay an actor, sometimes you turn to your friends.”
Williams’ involvement meant changing up the setting of “The Perfection,” as the first half of the film was originally written to take place in Mexico, not China. However, in order to get the film done in a timely manner, Shepard had to work around her schedule, as she was shooting her Netflix show “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” in Vancouver.
“I couldn’t double Mexico in Vancouver in winter,” he explained. “She said yes, and I just moved as quickly as possible.”
The setting in the classical music world amplifies much of the tension and the emotions in “The Perfection,” much in the same way ballet played a role in a film like “Black Swan.” Although he is not a classical music fanatic, Shepard found himself drawn to an environment in which it takes so much talent and work for one to be at the top of her game.
“And I felt like I wanted something absolutely beautiful in the beginning of the movie,” he said. “Classical music, by its nature, is beautiful. It’s an elevated art form. I wanted that clean world where people performed and lived in, so when the movie took a right turn into this dirty, crazy story, it feels different and gives the whole movie a different energy.”
This crazy turn takes place during the aforementioned bus ride, which Lizzie hops on despite feeling ill. What happens next is a nightmarish sequence, once which is shown twice from different perspectives.
“We were very specific about what we were shooting for the second time you saw it, so we weren’t really repeating stuff that much,” recalled Shepard. “We were giving new information the whole time, so those shots were really specific and thought about.”
As they only had 24 days to film in two countries (pick-up shots were done in Shanghai), Shepard had to get creative, but he was determined to film on a real bus, which he did with a skeleton crew.
“We had five people on that bus,” he recounted. “I was hiding behind a chair. Two people were in a luggage compartment area under some luggage. The AD was lying down under the tire. It was really crazy, but at the same time it was really fun. Allison and Logan did their makeup and retouched their own hair.”
When asked if he related to Charlotte and/or Lizzie, two very compelling figures, Shepard spoke about his process writing three-dimensional characters.
“I find sympathy for almost everyone I write, because I have to as a human being. Whether it’s Pierce Brosnan in ‘The Matador’ or Jude Law in ‘Dom Hemingway,’ I tend to write bigger than life characters sometimes, but I always try to find the humanity in them.
“In this case, in which you’re talking about a sort of bonkers, genre movie, to have two actors who truly cared about the characters they were playing and trying to give them a real living, breathing DNA, that really helped us, because you do care about them, even when they’re doing crazy stuff. So, yes, a part of me is in everything I write, even though sometimes it makes no sense. It makes sense to me, I guess.”
“The Perfection” is available to stream May 24 on Netflix.