The Perfection

Call it the worst thing to happen to the cello since Yo-Yo Ma copped to playing over a recorded track at the Obama inauguration…

The Perfection yo-yos from one genre to another, psychological thriller, body horror, rape-and-revenge. Yet it succeeds in committing to none convincingly enough to merit more than a passing commendation due to its dialogue howlers and exposition vomited out two-thirds in (OK, maybe the emptying of stomach contents, metaphorically at least, means The Perfection actually sits squarely in the body horror camp, “camp” being the operative term).

Two music conservatory grads — cello virtuoso products of fictional Bachoff Music College, Massachusetts — meet in Shanghai at a star-studded student school audition…one of ’em’s career has been sidetracked (Charlotte, played by Allison Williams) thanks to being a PSW for her ailing mom, the other is a global touring superstar, Lizzie (Logan Browning). The two play a cello duet for the assembled, then fan-girl each other into a night on the town then into the sack.

The next day, Lizzie starts to develop stomach upset and headaches. Instead of convalescing in the hotel like a normal human, she urges Allison to go on a long-haul bus trip into rural China as “she only has two weeks off” before going back on tour. At the best of times, nobody would go on a long-haul bus trip, let alone when the Chinese equivalent of Montezuma’s revenge is coming to clear out the pipes…

Lizzie soon vomits maggots all over the bus window, then when allowed to disembark, shits all over the side of the road in full view of the commuters, this as Allison yells indiscriminately at everyone in English, instead of the one Chinese guy actually conversant in the language, “my friend needs a doctor!”

As the plot unspools, the director hits the reset button, and there’s a goofy video rewind showing what actually happened to Lizzie, which in the hands of a competent filmmaker, would’ve been realized in the form of subtle foreshadowing…but which here takes the form of an exposition dump, speaking of dumps.

The Perfection, despite some game performances, awesome set pieces, and fun globe-trotting, can’t come together. The disciplinarians of the fancy-pants school screams Suspiria, and given that Allison Williams plays essentially a variation on her Get Out role, you don’t have to be the Long Island Medium to see where this thing is going. Plus, what kind of music school would, at its own expense, host an elaborate and very costly global talent search that might as well have had Simon Cowell and Howard Stern judging it?

When an antagonist wails, “You cut off her hand for nothing,” it’s a master class in melodrama, which precedes a revenge denouement too cartoonish and laughable to match the serious allegations against the school.

The “famous” “Cello duet #3” was composed especially for the movie, and it’s a tonal misfire as well.

** (out of 5)

Gerald’s Game

The characters jokingly refer to it as “death by misadventure,” and what happens (or maybe, as it turns out, doesn’t even happen at all) to two cottage-goers on a romantic weekend getaway forms the basis of Gerald’s Game, a scary, ambitious and at times confusing effort from Mike Flanagan (Hush/Oculus).

Bruce Greenwood stars as titular Gerald (a square-jaw spitting image of one of those out-of-home Viagra commercials), a husband in a stale, on-the-rocks marriage who wants to introduce some light bondage to wife, Jessie (the omnipresent, IMDb credit-filler, Carla Gugino, incredibly effective here).

The setup is designed to be something very predictable…so viewers unfamiliar with the 1992 Stephen King suspense novel on which this was based, will find Gerald’s Game especially satisfying as it takes a turn so sharp, it might as well be a hot pursuit in a Live PD episode.

The setting is a lush weekend getaway in Alabama, with a sprawling seaside vacation home complete with a surly dog (yes, Cujo is referenced).

After some handcuff-assisted foreplay with Jessie, Gerald stiffens (not like that) and keels over from a heart attack leaving the missus chained to the bed like a half-Procrustes. What’s a gal to do, especially with a phone too far out of reach?

The rest of Gerald’s Game is all about that very scenario, a terrifying survivalist exercise replete with flashbacks, hallucinations and PTSD that is endlessly fascinating, and much more than the flimsily sketched out premise on Netflix would indicate. There’s even a phantasmagorical bogeyman (or is he very grounded in reality?)

With the ending, however, it sucks that Mike Flanagan seemed to wrap too literal a bow around what was a metaphorical gift of a film, leading to a wholly unsatisfying “this is how the pieces fit together, see!” climax.

Still, while not the best King adaptation, Gerald’s Game is up there (let’s say, Top 10ish). And even the difficult-to-please author had nice things to say. And he’s correct.

***3/4 (out of 5)