Eddie Alcazar’s Perfect is like that rare, fleeting Instagram video ad whose arresting visuals actually manage to make you stop scrolling for a moment to drink it in and consider tapping through. Even if it’s confounding at face value, there’s the promise of something more illuminating should you look past its glamorous veneer.
But, like so many other high concept sci-fi films that came before it it, Perfect ultimately suffers from letting its focus on style outweigh the energy put into its substance, leading to a film that’s as disappointing to mull over as it is utterly delightful to look at.
We’re introduced to the world of Perfect through the eyes of Vessel 13 (Garrett Wareing), the film’s unnamed protagonist, who’s being given a second chance at life just after he’s murdered someone. The film is sparse in terms of dialogue (from screenwriter Ted Kupper) and worldbuilding, but what little we learn about Vessel 13 is difficult to interpret save for a few important things.
At some point before the film’s present day, Vessel 13 killed a woman he was physically intimate with, and while he’s horrified to realise what he’s done once he’s come out of his fugue state, there’s something inside of him, some part of him, that enjoyed his actions. And that part must be cut out of him, both literally and figuratively speaking.
Rather than directly addressing the brutality of Vessel 13’s crime, Perfect instead emphasises the sterilised, constructed perfection of the movie’s world and how here, people have developed ways of eradicating anything within themselves that threatens to disrupt the harmony of things. In a flashback, we’re introduced to 13’s mother (Abbie Cornish) who explains that she’s sending her son to a special place where people will make sure he never has an “incident” like the previous one ever again, but what’s most ominous and telling about the moment is how purposefully devoid of emotions it is.
When 13 asks his mother whether his murdering someone makes him a “bad” person, she assures him he isn’t, but there’s a distinct lack of any sort of warmth or empathy in both the mother’s response and the sterile setting where the conversation takes place which gives you the sense that everyone’s working with different ideas of good and evil than we are.
Perfect follows Vessel 13 as he travels to a luxe, futuristic rehabilitation centre where he undergoes an extensive reconditioning process involving meditation, exercise, and ritualistic self-mutilation. Every morning, as 13 wakes up, he dutifully takes a scalpel to his face, tracing out the lines before he makes the incisions, and removes a chunk of his face that’s replaced with a translucent, solid structure that heals the wound over and replaces the flesh beneath. Whatever the things are that 13’s shoving into his face, they alter the wiring of his being in a profound way — and, at least at first, he believes that the process is truly making him better.
While there’s obviously meaning baked into Perfect’s shots when the camera lingers on 13’s face as he draws out hashtags beneath his eyes in preparation for his latest alteration, it never exactly has a chance to amount to much, because the film mistakenly assumes that its shadowy, sumptuous cinematography can stand in for proper dialogue or subtext. Sarah (Courtney Eaton), another guest at the spa, acts as a kind of foil to 13; she drifts in and out of the film at random moments to remind the man that because she’s been at their new home longer than he has, she’s much farther along on the path to becoming a more evolved person than he is.
Flying Lotus’ intoxicatingly haunting score never lets you forget that Perfect is trying to build toward something profound and shocking about the human condition and the lengths we go to turn ourselves into things that we aren’t. Just as Vessel 13 can feel a twisted, primal darkness inside of him that threatens to claw its way out whenever he feels attracted to someone, you can feel Perfect’s desire to be equal parts heady and mind fuck-y.
But there’s a big difference between wanting to say something interesting and actually having something interesting to say. Unfortunately, Perfect never quite gets there.