Explainers

Netflix’s The Perfection, Explained

May 23, 2019
14 min read

If you had been waiting for a perfect horror-thriller to haunt your weekend, go no further than Netflix. ‘The Perfection’ is the treat for you, and you better hold on to your seats because it is going to be a rocky ride. Directed by Richard Shepard, who has also recently directed an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, this film stars Allison Williams in the role of a woman who comes back into the music world after a long hiatus, only to discover that another star (Logan Browning) is shining in her place now. A story of obsession with art, it reminds you of ‘Black Swan’ at times. However, it is far removed from that glory. Creepy, disturbing, gory, but entertaining, nonetheless, ‘The Perfection’ isn’t something you want to miss. If you haven’t yet seen it, watch it on Netflix before reading any further.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Summary of the Plot

Charlotte Wilmore had to give up her career in music when her mother fell ill. Years later, after being freed of the bounds, she decides to catch up with her mentors. She is invited to judge a competition in Shanghai, the winner of which will receive a full scholarship to Bachoff Academy, the same place where Charlotte had been before she had to leave it all behind. When she is introduced to Elizabeth Wells, she realises that her spot has been taken by someone else. Meanwhile, a mysterious disease has been taking hold of the people in South China. When one man in the party is believed to be sick with it, Charlotte and Lizzie wonder if they have caught it as well.

What Happened in Bachoff?

The thing that makes ‘The Perfection’ a thrilling watch is its storytelling. By shifting the story from one perspective to another, the film succeeds in keeping its secret intact and then reveals it at a critical moment to take the audience by surprise. You’ve hardly recovered from one revelation and you think, what more could be there now. And then, the film throws another surprise at you. All these twists and turns lead to a tug of war between the characters and the viewer wondering “who is the bad guy in this story?”. The division of the film into four parts- Mission, Detour, Home and Duet- allows it to keep this vagueness alive. It is only in the third section, Home, that a proper line is drawn between the villains and the victims.

The Bachoff Academy is introduced to us as a premier institute for music, specialising in cello. They go around the world, especially focusing on the talents in remote towns, to pick out the children with the greatest potential and then turn them into the best in business. Charlotte Wilmore, Lizzie Wells, Zhang Li- they are just a couple of girls whom they took under their wing and trained them for perfection.

Now, to be the best at something requires hard work and dedication on the student’s part and guidance with some strictness on the teacher’s part. It is easy to become complacent or allow yourself the luxury of skipping a note and making minor mistakes every now and then. And it is this exact thing that keeps you from becoming better. Anton knew this; he knew how important it is to keep your students on their toes, to give them incentives to not allow any sort of slip in their performance. And what is a better incentive than a punishment?

One of the things that we notice about the Academy, right from the beginning, is that there are no boys there. The students that they’ve already had and the students that they are auditioning for now are just girls. Does that mean that boys don’t have a talent for playing the cello? Not really. I think that the criterion for choosing girls and boys depends on the kind of pervert who is running the Academy. Anton and his fellow teachers were not just interested in teaching the girls to be the best cellists. They were paedophiles who used music to justify the sexual molestation of their students.

But what if one of the girls decided to speak up? What if she told her parents about it? This would ruin the name of the academy and would land the teachers in jail. There was a remedy for this as well. Remember how Anton and Paloma liked to go to small towns in order to pick their best students? This allowed them to show the girls, and their parents, that the favour of a lifetime was being done to them. A note was made to remind them how lucky they are to find a place in Bachoff, and that too, with a full scholarship. The academy is helping them make their dreams come true, and they shouldn’t be anything but thankful for that. This way the girl would first think about her future before telling her family about it. Also, since they were children, there was another trick to keep them in line.

To make the punishment more “dignified”, to show their students that they “deserved” it, the teachers invented a whole process. They would choose the best student they have and train them to play some difficult music. They would lure the students by showing them an acoustically perfect room built just for the sound of their brilliant music. To play in this room, you have to be perfect. If you are anything less than that, you’ll be punished, repeatedly. Until you get every note right, you will be raped. The girls were led to believe that this was happening to them because of themselves. They were responsible for this molestation. The teachers were just helping them be better. “If you make a mistake, you pay the price.”

Charlotte’s Plan

Charlotte was a musical prodigy. She was bestowed with the talent that is rare, and she received the opportunity to hone this gift and find a place beside the best in the world. She was another small-town girl, from a modest family that wouldn’t be able to afford her education, if not for the scholarship. These are the kind who are prone to work harder. The teachers at Bachoff knew this, and they encouraged her to be better. She made herself good enough to deserve to play in the special room. Once here, it was emphasised for her to be nothing short of perfect. After all this training, it would be frustrating if she fell short. And that frustration would take the form of the punishment.

For all her time, trying to be the perfect pupil, Charlotte was raped for every missed note, every slip in the tone, every other minor mistake. The three men didn’t miss any opportunity to point out the slightest of errors and punished her at every turn. After working so hard to find a place in that room, she now wanted just one thing. To run out of there. She dreamed of running away and never coming back. But she was stuck, and there was nothing she could do. Until her mother fell sick. This was Charlotte’s opportunity. She was still a child and they could have found someone to take care of her mother. Charlotte could have continued with her education. But she decided not to. She used her mother’s illness as an excuse to get out of that place.

However, the things that had been done to her at Bachoff couldn’t be reversed. She was scarred for life, and this resulted in her mental breakdowns. She tried to kill herself and had to survive some serious time in mental hospitals to pull herself back together. But the people at Bachoff didn’t know this. Had they actually cared about her they would have kept in touch. But once she was out of the academy, she was out of their lives. This shows how much they really cared about her, or any other student.

After years of taking care of her mother, as well as herself, Charlotte was freed of her obligation when her mother died. “What now?” was the question everyone asked about her. It would have made sense for her to try and get back into music. When she contacted Anton and Paloma, that’s what they thought she was doing. However, she had something else in mind.

Every student who proved themselves good enough to play in “the room” were tattooed on the back with a music note. This was a stamp that signified how talented they were, to show that they were a part of the elite group now. But that was for the teachers. Charlotte knew what this tattoo actually meant. She had one on her back, and she saw one on Lizzie’s back too. This is when she realised that what had happened to her at Bachoff had happened to Lizzie as well. And would continue to happen to other girls. This is when she decides to take some action.

She travels all the way to Shanghai to meet with her former mentors. Her primary intention was to meet Lizzie and help her get out of the abusive relationship with her teachers. At the audition, she talks to her and even questions if she ever feels like leaving it all behind. She is not a child anymore and if she wanted to expose Bachoff, if she wanted to stop the cycle of molestation, she could. But Lizzie’s demeanour indicates something else. Charlotte realises that she is too brainwashed to give a thought to what has been done to her, and more importantly, what would be done to the girl she would pick tonight for the scholarship. Talking to her was not going to help. Something extreme was needed to open her eyes.

After getting drunk and sleeping with Lizzie, the next morning, Charlotte decides to execute her plan. In the name of treating her hangover, she gives Lizzie her mother’s medication instead of Ibuprofen. The side effects of this include dry throat, hallucinations and hysteria, and alcohol amplifies it. All the things that happen to Lizzie the next morning are a result of the pills. To add to her panic, Charlotte adds more details, like pretending to see bugs in her puke and acting terrified when Lizzie is mortified by what she sees on her arm. We are tricked into believing everything because it all happens from Lizzie’s point of view. Just like her, we too think that some mysterious disease from South China has found its way to her. In truth, whatever happened in Hunan, stayed in Hunan. It isn’t until Charlotte pulls a meat cutter out of her pocket that we begin to question everything. Why the hell does she have that thing? This is when we take a few steps back and see things from Charlotte’s perspective. But even that is half of the story. We are led to believe that Charlotte was jealous of Lizzie and that’s why she did it. The truth was that she really did care about her and wanted to save her, even if the price was her hand.

Three months later, Lizzie turns up at Bachoff and tells her mentors how a jealous Charlotte had tricked her into severing her own hand and left her in the middle of nowhere after roughly patching her up. This little detail becomes crucial. Why did Charlotte bother to make a tourniquet for her if she was going to leave her for dead anyway? It was because she didn’t want her dead. She leaves her there because she knew someone from the bus would come back to find them and Lizzie would be saved. She knew that Lizzie could speak fluent Mandarin and that finding her way back wouldn’t be a trouble for her.

Lizzie’s Revenge

It was after she cut her own hand when Lizzie realised that she wasn’t sick. Charlotte talks to her about what happens at Bachoff and tries to knock some sense into her. But Lizzie is too preoccupied with the loss of a limb that she finds it difficult to concentrate on what she was being told. She really did consider Bachoff her family, and she returns there with the hope that she will be accepted and helped. Instead, she discovers that they have no use for her now and want her out of the place. This is when Charlotte’s point hits her. Anton and Paloma never cared about her, and they will never care about any other girl they bring into their academy. She goes back to Charlotte, and after beating her up a bit, she asks for her help in exacting revenge on their offenders. They go back to Bachoff and pretend as if Lizzie wants to punish Charlotte.

After we discover the truth about Anton, we realise that Charlotte was a victim, and Lizzie’s actions force us to believe that she is the villain. But, of course, that’s because we don’t know the whole story yet. Anton brings Charlotte back into “the room” and she is bound and beautified to perform for everyone. There is still a punishment on the table if she fails to play with perfection. But this time, it won’t be inflicted on her. Zhang Li, the new girl, would have to pay the price for her failure. When she is done playing, Anton tells that he won’t punish an innocent girl for Charlotte’s mistake, because he isn’t a “random pervert”. He leaves her to the mercy of other men and leaves. Before they can begin to molest her, Lizzie asks to go first. Before anything can happen, the men fall to their death, and Lizzie and Charlotte kiss, revealing that this had been their plan all along.

When Charlotte is forcibly brought down into the room, we see that Lizzie is already there. It is here when Lizzie adds something in the alcohol that is later consumed by Paloma and the others, except Anton. After they are killed, the girls seek out Anton to exact revenge on him.

The Perfection Ending and Post Credit Scene

It was easier to kill the others because they had already been drugged. Since Anton hadn’t had the drinks, he was in full control of his senses, which made him fight back. However, he was no match against the hellish fury of the women, and they beat him. But not without casualties. In all this fighting, Anton gets hold of the knife and stabs Charlotte’s hands. As a result, she loses her limb, just as Lizzie, and it feels like she wouldn’t be able to play again. At first, I thought that Anton was dead. If not that, then at least, he would spend the rest of his life in jail. Before any more thought could be given to it, a disturbing scene plays out before the credits start to roll. Turns out, the girls severed Anton’s both hands and legs. They even made his blind. He was kept on IV to stay alive and live out the rest of his punishment in the same room where he inflicted abuse on the girls.

How the girls managed to keep the police out of their business is the only gaping plot-hole that the film suffers from. But if you can look past the flaw, it does bring the story to a good conclusion, no matter how unnerving. Whether or not Bachoff still serves as an institute is questionable. Would the parents still want their children to live in a place where a quarter of the staff was dead and the headmaster was as good as gone? I know I wouldn’t! One thing that we do know for sure is that the music would remain in Bachoff, with its two most prized students playing it out in synchrony.

Will There be The Perfection Sequel?

The short answer is probably not. Even though there are unanswered question that the film leaves behind, there’s not much of material that can be taken forward to create another movie without being repetitive. Having said that, with Netflix you never know. For instance, ‘Bird Box‘ was never conceived as a sequel, but now Netflix has commissioned Bird Box 2.  So, the right answer is the prospects of The Perfection Sequel depends on its viewership numbers.

Read More in Explainers: Osmosis | Bird Box | Triple Frontier

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