I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
AUSTIN – One of the most difficult interviews I’ve ever had to do was for THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. If you ever seen the film, you know how wrapped up in secrecy it is. You can spoil the fun of it so quick, because the twists happen so early on and it only gets more twisted as the story goes on.
Richard Shepard’s latest stroke of genius, THE PERFECTION, faces the same issue.
It’s safe to know that the film is a teeth-grinding thriller about two cellists, Charlotte (Allison Williams) and Lizzie (Logan Browning of DEAR WHITE PEOPLE series), who form a relationship and uncover some horrifying truths in their lives.
Its story is split up into different chapters to showcase different character perspectives and toy with the audience’s expectations. It’ll be one of the most berserk and unique movie-going experiences you’ll ever have. Trust me.
Shepard’s film is currently looking for distribution (and I don’t imagine it will take long). It had its world premiere on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 at Fantastic Fest in Austin, where festival-goers only had a one-line plot description, a single image (As seen below: of Williams and Browning playing a cello in an auditorium) and a list of the talent and crew involved to entice them. That’s it. It’s these kind of blind movie experiences that make film festivals so exciting to attend.
However, despite how exhilarating it is for those willing to take the plunge knowing so little, you still have to market to a wider audience, and that can be dangerous territory for a mystery movie.
“[THE PERFECTION is] a tough sell, in a good way. It’s a complicated movie and not a one-note movie, which are the kind of stories I want to see,” Shepard said during a discussion at Fantastic Fest. “It’s going to be a challenge in marketing, because you can easily give away too much of the plot. You can see certain images in the trailer or in the poster and suddenly know where the third act is going, and it can damage the viewing experience.”
Williams echoed Shepard and said it’s a matter of finding a studio who knows what the film is and loves it for all its insanity.
“Because there are about eight different tones throughout the course of the movie, I think we have a good shot of finding a happy home somewhere. The marketing will be a challenge like [Shepard said,] but really, you don’t know who to trust in the story until there are about 10 minutes left,” said Williams.
In fact, it was this idea of having unreliable characters that appealed to Williams. She recognized that, in many ways, her character, Charlotte, is a continuation of her character Rose from Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning film GET OUT – another film filled with secrets.
“We sort of needed the baggage, so to speak, of Rose for the beginning of [THE PERFECTION.] From the minute you see me on screen, you can’t trust me. You ask, ‘What is she up to?’ Even if you haven’t seen me in Get Out, we aimed to achieve that feeling of distrust,” Williams said. “I immediately thought [Charlotte] was fascinating. She has such a flawed logic but has a good heart and is trying to fight her way back to a sense of [normalcy and decency] that has never been offered to her by external forces. I just saw her as someone who’s on a mission and has been stuck in a moment in a stairwell for her entire adult life.”
Shepard had previously worked with Williams on many episodes from the HBO series GIRLS, and he recognized this mysterious quality in Williams from their interactions on set. He wanted to explore that aspect of Williams in the character Charlotte.
“I crafted [the character] for her, because there have been times when I can’t exactly grasp what she is thinking as an actor. [Williams] can show you everything, but she can also pull it back so you’re not seeing all the cards,” Shepard said. “It comes through the editing as well: How can we put this together so that if you watched it again, it still works? If you watch it a second time, you may notice how hard we tried to stay true to the characters. It was tricky, but I believe we had the performances needed to make it work.”
If you look at Shepard’s filmography, with titles like DOM HEMINGWAY and THE PERFECTION, you may sense that Shepard has a fascination with characters who are dirty yet sophisticated. They may seem all warm, cozy and trusting on the surface, but buried underneath is the darkest of secrets.
“I don’t know what the stuff I write, or the movies I do, come from. I like flawed people, and I try to find the heart in them. It makes for good drama. For most of my movies, I don’t know where they’re going to go; I just let the characters steer it. This was not the case with [THE PERFECTION,] Shepard admitted. “This was a heavily plotted movie. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve had a complete outline, because there are so many twists and turns.”
Shepard added that audiences should never feel the screenwriting of the film, even if they recognize that they screenwriting is good. It should feel organic and true to the character and the world that surrounds them.
“If you just follow the characters, you’ll think, ‘Of course they’re going to do this! This is what they would do,’” Shepard said.
This attention to detail is what attracted Williams to Shepard’s talent as a storyteller. She said he has the ability to take people who have this “sheen on them and pierces right through it.”
“Oddly enough, I grew up around people like this, people who present themselves as perfect individuals, but you just know as soon as they go home there are bodies on the floor or orgies happening,” Williams joked.
It was critical for Williams and her fellow actors to not signal anything to the audience too early. Even as you read this and anticipate a story of deception, I challenge you to find any broken strings in the framework. You likely won’t find it. Just let THE PERFECTION play you like a cello.
THE PERFECTION hits Netflix on May 24, 2019.