We’re living in an age where the queer community and the horror community have met at an accessible crossroads, and it’s one of a heck of an awesome place to be at. Monthly, I will be meeting you at this crossroads, and sharing queer aspects of films past and present. Some of these aspects will be blatant, and some will be closeted, but in the end, the queer parts of the things that go bump in the night will be explored in Queer Frights.
The sounds of screams mixed with the warm yet striking sounds of the cello combined with screams of rage is what brings us to this month’s Queer Frights. This primal mixture of sounds can be found in Richard Shepard’s The Perfection. After its 2018 Fantastic Fest premiere, The Perfection had a 2019 debut on Netflix where it received high praise.
Upon my first viewing, I was dumbstruck by the seamless form that the film took with its focus on revenge, and by its leading ladies who elevated the film’s material with their performances. But there’s so much more to unpack within the film. My second viewing led to a different perspective that meshed with what I received upon that first viewing. Allow me to play the strings of my own cello as I explain what I saw.
The beginning of the film introduces us to our two main characters, Charlotte (Allison Williams) and Lizzie (Logan Browning). Charlotte was a student of a prestigious school that focuses on cellists ran by Anton (Steven Weber). When her mother fell deathly ill, she had to return home to take care of her. Years later, Charlotte makes a return to the cellist world via a search for the school’s next student in Shanghai. During this time, Charlotte and Lizzie are formally introduced, and upon the introduction, they are attracted to each other.
After a few interactions during the new student presentation, the sexual chemistry between the two rise to a moment of utter bliss after a night of dancing and alcohol. A night of fun and passion leads Lizzie to invite Charlotte on a two week excursion throughout China where the responsibilities of a nationally renown cellist are out of the door, and fun is on the menu.
“Upon my first viewing, I was dumbstruck by the seamless form that the film took with its focus on revenge, and by its leading ladies who elevated the film’s material with their performances. “
No matter what sexuality you are, if you meet someone whose spirit draws you in, you’re in. But there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the meeting of these two individuals. They have more in common than one of them suspects. One of the two is there to help bring to light an experience that they weren’t even aware existed.
It’s possible to view the journey that Charlotte and Lizzie take from two different lenses. One of those is through a queer lens. Not just because of the intimacy between the two characters, but many things that are done and said during their bus trip brings the mind’s eye to that lens. Specifically, the bus ride in which Lizzie’s supposed hangover turns into a terrible sickness from which she can’t escape.
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This moment in the film is one that creates an anxiety that can not be escaped. Lizzie begins to lose control of her bodily functions. The moments where she fears that she will shit herself on the bus are conducive to recreate moments of anxiety in any person. For me, watching Lizzie struggle on that bus brought about anxieties experienced not just for the fear of getting sick in an inescapable situation, but the fear that everyone will experience something that you never wanted anyone to see. Lizzie wasn’t trying to hide her sexuality in this moment. There’s very little correlation of almost shitting yourself in front of people to having your sexuality be brought out into the open unintended, but the panic is the same.
The panic continues as Charlotte and Lizzie are kicked off of the bus for fear of spreading what disease Lizzie may have. She then begins to see maggots in her vomit, and various bugs crawling under her skin. “It’s fucking inside of me,” she yells to Charlotte, pleading with her eyes to help her. Charlotte then talks her into a cutting her off her lower arm from which Lizzie sees the bugs escaping, and Lizzie does just that. This takes away her life. Her hands are her job. She uses them to play the cello. Without that one hand, she is no one.
The act of coming out is a fearful experience, as you’re afraid you will lose something that means the world to you, or at least you think means the world to you. In Lizzie’s case, she did lose that part of her world. But there was an entire reason for losing that part of herself. She gained a truth about her past that wouldn’t have come to light unless Charlotte led her to do what she did.
Granted, the way that Charlotte manipulated Lizzie with lies and drugging her is an intense way to go about to bring out the truth. It was unfair, demented, painful, and intense. But that’s what coming out is for most individuals. It should never be pushed upon by an outside force. It should always be on the own person’s time. This elevated that anxiety while I watched these moments occur.
Charlotte had her reasoning for doing what she did, though. Outside of the queer lens, and into the lens of abuse, Charlotte felt Lizzie would never see the truth behind the instructors that helped hone their cellist skills. Led by Anton, the faculty of Bachoff used sexual abuse when their most prized students made a mistake. The Perfection was the sole goal of the students, and if a mistake was made to keep them from reaching The Perfection, unspeakably sick acts were committed against the students.
Since Lizzie experienced wealth and fame, she drew a blind eye to the acts that were committed to place her there. Charlotte’s eyes were open due to intense mental treatments she received once she left Bachoff and after her mother became sick and died. In Charlotte’s eyes, Lizzie had no chance of escape from the Stockholm syndrome that she had been drawn into by Bachoff’s instructors. The Perfection laid within her. When she played the cello, she was a vessel of God – as the instructors made her believe to be the case. Charlotte knew something tragic had to occur to get her to see the truth. This is why her plan for Lizzie had to be done.
Bachoff’s use of God and perfection to cover up their ungodly and wholly imperfect acts is one of the sickest and horrific ways that men could use to take advantage of girls. The extreme measures that were used to make Lizzie see the truth were unacceptable, but in the film’s case, it worked. Charlotte and Lizzie took down the patriarchal slime that covered the halls of Bachoff by combining their actual strengths. Lizzie lost a limb, and Charlotte ended up having the opposite limb destroyed in that fight. In the end, Anton lost all of his limbs, but was there to experience what true perfection was in the final few moments of the film when Charlotte and Lizzie combined their strengths to perform their brand new perfection on the cello.
“The act of coming out is a fearful experience, as you’re afraid you will lose something that means the world to you […] In Lizzie’s case, she did lose that part of her world. “
The Perfection is a heavy film. It speaks to people on many different levels. It’s incredibly effective in much deeper ways that I comprehend on some terms, but could never comprehend on others. Throughout all of the manipulation and abuse, what I did see was an ending that is representative of queer people and women pulling together to help overcome the imperfections brought into their life, and making them an absolute perfection.
if you haven’t been able to experience The Perfection, it is currently able to stream on Netflix. If this article didn’t forewarn you, then I shall now: trigger warning for sexual abuse and attempted rape.
For more lighter sounds of screams, check out the rest of this month’s coverage on many different audible moments in horror, and join the conversations on our Twitter, reddit, Instagram, and on The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!