Netflix film The Perfection set the internet ablaze last month. We’re looking into how the film quietly subverts the expectations of your standard rape/revenge film.
When The Perfection debuted on Netflix this past May, it caused a division among horror fans. Some lauded the film for its lack of inhibition and boldness while others criticized the movie for its ludicrous premise and over-the-top body horror.
On the surface, The Perfection is a shocking, brutal thriller told at a breakneck pace with enough twists and turns to give you whiplash. Stripped down to bare essentials, The Perfection is yet another rape/revenge film.
Warning: The following article contains spoilers for the film.
Two women (and more we don’t meet) are brutalized by a man to advance his career, their worth determined by their ability to meet impossible standards, to obtain “the perfection.”
At a surface level, this is nothing new. We’ve seen this story told multiple times, though generally through a much grittier lens and without the sheen of glamor and sophistication that an elite music academy provides.The Perfection — Courtesy of Netflix
What I found so refreshing about The Perfection is it doesn’t feel the need to add gratuitous and exploitative scenes of assault to make a point or to shock the audience.
The film is plenty shocking but in other, more creative ways. I daresay it is one of the most suspenseful and anxiety-inducing films about sexual assault I’ve ever seen, and not even once does it show a graphic depiction of rape.
In fact, the only time we see Charlotte and Lizzie in a sexual act is when the two spend a consensual, loving night together. The Perfection doesn’t even use their sex scene as a chance to objectify them.
Both women are nude, but nothing explicit is shown. Instead, their intimacy is displayed through sensual and coquettish camera cutaways rather than shamelessly slow pans akin to the raking eyes of the male gaze.
There have been several movies where two women engage in sex to tout a banner of inclusivity, yet their sex scenes contain obscene camera tricks as if shooting a scene in lesbian porn rather than regular intercourse between a couple, films like Blue is the Warmest Color and Atomic Blonde come to mind.
The only explicit nudity shown in The Perfection is by Steven Weber, the predatory Anton, who briefly goes full-frontal in Charlotte’s flashbacks.
Despite not showing any of the assault scenes on-camera, the implication is potent enough to build suspense and make the viewer sickened by the monstrosity demonstrated behind the scenes of Bachoff.
The Perfection achieves what many films and television shows fail to, even when they do show lengthy rape scenes. Why is it necessary to show a rape in full when you can achieve the same impact by implication and cutaways?
Audiences aren’t stupid. They can detect the nuance of suggestion. Often times, the lack of showing something creates a more significant punch than pulling back the curtain and revealing it in full.
Rape scenes are typically a pointless addition meant to disturb the audience. At their worst and most insidious, their purpose becomes to titillate and exploit.
Charlotte and Lizzie succeed in exacting epic revenge on Anton, leaving him a mutilated sack of skin, alive only by their will. The violence isn’t lacking where it counts. You don’t root against Anton any less because you don’t see him violate a woman on-screen.
The only sex scene shown in its full glory is a tender and loving one between two, willing, women, and that’s a powerful statement to make in the context of this genre often rife with misogyny.
This movie makes a successful argument for augmenting the typical structure of a rape/revenge film to ensure the most brutal acts of violence are orchestrated by the characters most in need of reclaiming their bodily autonomy.
The Perfection is now available to stream on Netflix.