The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival wanted to keep its “Secret Screening” a true surprise. No Halloween, they said. no Suspiria. Nothing that you could easily guess would show up at a horror movie festival. Well let me tell you, they succeeded. Eddie Alcazar’s Perfect is as un-guessable as a film can be. 24 hours after seeing it, I’m still working on my guess, trying to piece together exactly what I experienced at the Nitehawk Cinema this weekend. Maybe that’s as good a place to start this review as any. No matter what you think of my review, I’m still not entirely sure what I saw.
Perfect begins with Vessel 13 (Garrett Wareing), an unnamed young man with murderous instincts. After savagely killing a romantic partner, 13 is sent to a kind of psychopath rehabilitation center. His mother, who also used to have the urge to kill, orchestrates his trip. Once he gets there, 13 begins a treatment aimed at removing the evil in his nature (quite literally, I’ll get to that). What follows is his tour through the futuristic recovery program, one that’s part sci-fi medicine, part visual surrealism. 13 meets other patients, goes to mind-bending therapy sessions, and interacts with the somewhat sinister staff of the hospital. By the end, audiences will wonder if humans can ever really change, no matter how futuristic or surreal their world gets.
“[Perfect] is a visual symphony.”
We’ll return to the plot in a moment, but first let me say this: this movie is a visual symphony. From the opening shots of a beautifully rotting brain fading into abstract water color, to the gorgeous natural and technological landscape of the facility, to the striking black-and-white representations of 13‘s dark thoughts, this movie earns its keep as a piece of visual media. In a cultural space so full of CGI, this film’s animations stand out as intentional and well-crafted. In one particularly good example of this, 13 literally removes the evil parts of himself, represented as rotting chunks of his skin. He then replaces those chunks with clean, pre-packaged pieces of himself, leaving connecting, geographic scars all over his body. It’s a fascinating and gut-wrenching thing to watch, and it stuck with me throughout the screening.
Now, onto the plot. Let me first say this; I don’t think every movie’s plot needs to be crystal clear. I love David Lynch’s Fire Walk with Me, and I still can’t make sense out of every story detail in that movie. However, I definitely want a story when I see a movie. And I wish Perfect would’ve given me a bit more of one.
First of all, the concept and initiation of the film bring up such interesting questions. Can 13 be cured of his dark urges? What does this “cure for evil” process involve? The beginning of the movie excited me into thinking the story would explore these themes. Instead, what we get is a series of strange images as 13 goes through the very vague process of “fixing” his dark nature. Though these images are striking (see “evil chunks” above), there’s no real hint at what’s actually going on. Without a little bit of context, 13‘s stay at the facility can feel repetitive and show-offy, more about how the story is told than the story itself.
“..13’s stay at the facility can feel repetitive and show-offy, more about how the story is told than the story itself.”
The movie especially lost me in defining 13‘s relationships with other people. For example, his interactions with his mother are sparse and inconsequential. So, when we see her emit an emotional performance at one point in the movie, it feels out of place. Then, there’s a love interest 13 meets at the facility, Sarah (Courtney Eaton). Her character is all over the place, both superior and submissive to 13, without any explanation as to why she changes. Finally, there’s a character revelation at the end that could have been an interesting twist. (I won’t spoil it here.) However, there was no lead-up to this reveal, so it felt like it was just dropped into the story. In fact, I asked myself that question a lot during this movie. “Why is this here?”
At the end of this film, I felt underwhelmed. Though their world was gorgeous, I didn’t feel anything for Vessel 13 or the characters around him. That lack of connection made the stakes of this movie seem pretty low. Also, with the story structure as loose as it was, I couldn’t get into 13‘s journey. The events in this movie felt so abrupt and unexplained, I couldn’t make them work as a story in my head. I’ve heard people say that moviemaking is like putting a puzzle together. Perfect‘s puzzle pieces were shocking and awe-inspiring, fascinating to look at on their own. But I couldn’t fit them together.
“Perfect‘s puzzle pieces were shocking and awe-inspiring, fascinating to look at on their own. But I couldn’t fit them together.”
Then again, maybe this movie is above me. Let me explain. I was recently at a concert where a saxophonist broke into a several-minute-long solo. His bandmates cheered him on and reacted to the range and speed he displayed with his horn. When he was done, their energy was through the roof. But…I didn’t get it. I could tell the stuff he played must’ve taken decades of practice and tons of skill, but there was no tune or beat I could follow. Still, his band adored it. So when I left this concert, I thought, “I don’t understand saxophone.”
Perhaps that’s what Perfect was. Perhaps the movie was the brilliant solo, and creator Eddie Alcazar was the incredibly talented musician. And because I don’t make movies, I didn’t comprehend its sheer genius or value as a piece of art. If you want to see some truly breathtaking animation, definitely add Perfect to your list of things to watch. But if you want structure, or a more traditional film, or if you just don’t have the know-how like me, Perfect may not be right for you.
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