Allison Williams Discusses That ‘The Perfection’ Plot Twist: “We Wanted to Avoid Exploiting Anything”
Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Netflix’s The Perfection.
After the success of Get Out, actor Allison Williams wanted her next project to be something “felt vital.”
“I was looking for a movie that spoke to me in the same way that Get Out did,” Williams told Decider. “Something that I could ask people to go see and really mean it—not for my own vanity, but something that I really felt belonged in the conversation.”
She found that—she hopes—in The Perfection, a new horror-thriller from director Richard Shepard now streaming on Netflix. The Perfection will undoubtedly spark conversation, but it may not be quite as congratulatory as the one that followed Get Out. The story, as Williams delicately puts it, “gets into a subject matter that’s really tricky in ways that are totally unpredictable.”
Williams stars as Charlotte, a former child prodigy on the cello who was forced to drop out of her prestigious music conservatory when her mother fell ill. After her mother dies, she seeks out her old mentor Anton (Steven Weber) and discovers he has a new favorite student named Lizzie (Logan Browning). Immediately, Charlotte and Lizzie fall into an intense sexual relationship. In lieu of spoilers, let’s just say that two women end up in a horrific situation, which, we the viewers assume, was orchestrated by Charlotte out of jealousy.Photo: Netflix
This next part is a spoiler, but necessary to discuss the political relevance of the film, so click away now, if you must: Around the hour-mark, we learn that Charlotte was raped by her instructor, as a twisted means of motivation. It’s a revelation that changes the entire film. In retrospect, Charlotte was trying not to sabotage Lizzie, but to save her. In screenwriting, that’s a tactic known as the third-act twist: Something that resolves the tension of the first two acts and creates new tension for the final 30 minutes of the film.
And so The Perfection indulges in a common and highly-criticized Hollywood habit: Rape as a plot twist, and it’s a move that’s become increasingly scrutinized in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In her 2017 article about that exact topic for The Atlantic, writer Sophie Gilbert questioned: “Where does the entertainment industry’s excessive preoccupation with sexual assault as a storyline move beyond exploring real human experiences into pathology?” In an essay from 2016, Variety‘s Maureen Ryan noted, “Whether writers think it adds “edge” or connotes character depth — and both of those assumptions are fraught — rape is prevalent in prestige vehicles, procedurals and genre shows alike.”
Williams was more than aware of the pitfalls of the trope headed into the film. “We thought about everything,” she said. “We tried to be considerate, especially given the ground the movie covers. We wanted to avoid exploiting anything, and I don’t believe we are using [sexual assault] in that way. The second time you watch the movie, you realize [the assault] is there from the start. It’s in every frame.”Photo: Netflix
To The Perfection‘s credit, the flashbacks to Charlotte’s rape are not nearly as graphic or explicit as those in Last Tango in Paris, Game of Thrones, or Downton Abbey, all of which faced blowback for their rape scenes. (Though Shephard, who co-wrote the script, can’t seem to resist one semi-graphic shot of a mutilated hand edging toward Charlotte’s crotch while she screams in fear.) And no one can argue Charlotte and Logan don’t get their revenge.
Williams also points to the ways in which her character’s dark secret mirrors the reality of sexual assault. “I think it’s a very real thing,” she said. “You can walk around New York City, pass so many different people and not see this part of their lives. But statistically, it’s at work for 25 percent of them.” And she hopes by easing audiences into it, the effect will ultimately be more impactful. “Slowly but surely, you realize that you’re part of a story that unfortunately many people can relate to, and is part of the discussion that we’re having as a country right now.”
At the same time, she didn’t want her character to represent the larger issue of sexual assault, so she worked with Browning, Shephard, and co-writers Eric C. Charmelo and Nicole Snyder “to make sure we were playing people very specifically, and not [as] an issue or a subject area.”
She continued, “You’re able to more successfully talk about issues like assault if you are playing someone specific, rather than someone who is supposed to represent everybody who has had an interaction with it. You can’t possibly do that—sadly it’s too vast a population.”
Of course, there’s only so much Williams can control from her vantage point, and she undoubtedly delivers a harrowing performance that gets more nuanced each time you watch it. “At a basic, fundamental level, it was similar to the process of building any character,” Williams said. “It’s just that, of course, the particulars of [Charlotte’s] past and the subject matters are more intense than the other characters that I’ve played.”