‘The Perfection’ review – we dare you to look away from this trashtastic, genre-hopping Netflix movie

Calling The Perfection a film about cellists is like calling Alien a movie about astronauts, or Superman a film about a journalist. You’re kind of burying the lede. The fact it’s centred on two cellists is both vitally important and completely arbitrary. The things that happen to those cellists are so nutty that you could be given infinite time to predict where things might go next and you’d likely never come close to being right. This film is crackers. It is by many measures also fairly terrible, but it so completely insane that it is never even close to boring.

Allison Williams plays Charlotte, who was once a brilliant child cellist but had to give up her training to care for her sick mother. Her mother now dead, Charlotte seeks out her old teacher in an attempt to rediscover herself. Tracking him to an event in Shanghai, Charlotte is introduced to his new star pupil, Lizzie (Logan Browning). Charlotte is intimidated by Lizzie’s confidence. Lizzie idolises the older Charlotte. Jealousy, fascination and a mutual attraction lead to a night of music, dancing and sex. Then everything goes bonkers.

To say that the script, by Nicole Snyder, Eric C. Charmelo and Richard Shepard, is clever would not be quite right. It is extremely inventive and surprising, but in a way that is also quite dumb. Twists come not from subverting what we thought we knew, but by bringing new information careening in from nowhere. Its silliness in no way lessens the shock or entertainment value. As erotic drama becomes body horror becomes revenge movie becomes psychological horror, you’re likely to be screaming at your telly, as much in delighted bafflement as fright.

The reason it works, or works better than it might, is that everybody here seems to know what they’re involved in. As a director, Shepard gets the tone largely right. It’s never taking itself deadly seriously but also never winking at the audience, telling us that they know this is schlock. He could have pushed many moments further, hurling them into operatic high camp, but he holds back just a touch, keeping just a fingertip on realism. He keeps it from being laughable. Both Williams and Browning are excellent, smoothing the dramatic lurches of their characters.

Good trash is a kind of art. Overdo it and it’s unwatchable. Underdo it and it’s dull. The Perfection is some really pretty great trash.