Monday, December 30, 2019

Listener Sam Reviews: Perfect, A Psychedelic Body Horror Odyssey

To learn that Brainfeeder Films had produced something new, and that it bafflingly had Steven Soderbergh attached as a producer, was a thrill. I was a huge fan of 2017’s Kuso, so when this popped up on Shudder, I was surprised I’d never heard of it. I shouldn’t have been particularly surprised though, Kuso is a punishingly inaccessible film that feels exclusively made for perverts and punishment-gluttons like myself. It’s not a genre that invites advertising. Regardless, I threw myself right into Perfect, unsure of what to expect, and found myself hypnotized by its fluorescent neon-tinged aesthetics. 

For those out of the loop, Brainfeeder Films is a film production company founded by electronic musician Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) and filmmaker Eddie Alcazar as an offshoot of Brainfeeder Records. For those of you who know me personally, you may be aware of my Flying Lotus fandom, which was only solidified by his unique and bizarre collaborations with artists like Shintaro Kago and filmmakers such as David Lynch (plus a cavalcade of musical collaborators).  When he announced he was moving into film, I was really excited, as his music and live performances have strong visual elements. Kuso was a flop with many viewers, but I liked it quite a bit, and was excited for more.

I’m happy to report that Perfect is a far more pleasant film than Kuso, and is somehow more inscrutable. It follows Garrett, a troubled teen who’s sent to a clinic after committing a violent act. The goal of his treatment there is “Perfection,” which is achieved through a brutal and psychedelic process of body modification. “Perfection is horrible,” we’re told early on in voiceover by Garrett’s mother. This serves as the film’s thesis, as the treatments Garrett receives draw him further and further from humanity.

Perfect doesn’t give you much more than that and invites the viewer to discover the plot, which is told through flashbacks, voiceovers, and hallucinations within split timelines that blend reality and fantasy. What we’re given is challenging, and could be interpreted as being anything from mindless nonsense to a trans-human biopunk epic. The reality presumably falls somewhere in between, so I’ll leave that to you, dear reader, to decide for yourself.

What you’ll get for certain is a beautiful eighty-eight montage of visuals. Among the most notable visuals were Garrett’s violent flashbacks, which are shown in garish vfx-heavy black and white. These are accompanied by sequences of neon rotoscoping and 80's styled retro-futuristic animations. The clinic itself is a gorgeous modernist building built in a jungle that feels simultaneously on the outskirts of Los Angeles and alone on an alien planet.

The effects of Garrett’s transformation also stand out. We see his shift in a variety of ways, but central his transformation is the methodical slicing-out of cubes of flesh from his face, which he replaces with crustal cubes. The effect itself is gorgeous and provides a fantastic visual means of tracking Garrett’s progress through the clinic. Since this is a body horror film, he experiences other physical transformation, more harrowing than his face-slicing, but I’ll leave those for you to discover.

Garrett Wareing’s performance as Garrett (Credited as Vessel #13) really makes the movie work. Although there is dialogue, it’s sparse and often occurs in voiceover and pre-lap. Instead, we rely on his body language and physical acting which is top-notch. His dispassionate expressions and unsteady, spastic movement entrance the viewer. Alcazar goes out of his way to objectify Wareing, both before and after his transformation, inviting the viewer to gawk as the body horror unfolds. 

In many ways, Perfect feels like a long-form music video; style never cedes control to substance. Characters come and go without reason. Whole sequences exist as if only to spotlight the music. Hard changes in lighting and palette break the film into music video like segments. This, of course, works perfectly with Flying Lotus’ beautiful score. The music blends minimal string pieces with thrumming electronic beats which often overtake everything. This score makes you feel the film as much as view it.

Perfect is not a film for everybody, but if you like your films to be light on plot and high on psychedelics, you’re in luck. Perfect blends movies like Beyond the Black Rainbow and Antiviral with the arthouse aesthetic of Gaspar Noe and music video directors like Chris Cunningham and Jesse Kanda. The end result is a trippy, visceral film that’s both beautiful and ugly. It almost feels like a “watch it on drugs” movie designed to give the viewer a bad trip.

Perfect is available on Shudder and on Amazon Prime! 

-Listener Sam

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