A trippy take on genetic engineering, Perfect is a mind-altering film that, depending on the viewer’s sensibilities, will either be an expressionist gem or a hollow exercise in style over substance. Taking place at what could either be a high-tech health spa or the future of the penal system, the film begins as a young man known as Vessel 13 (Garrett Wareing) is urged to this facility by his mother (Abbie Cornish). She’s been there before, opening a whole host of possibilities as liberties are taken visually and spiritually in the name of creating an origin story for Vessel 13 as mother projects her hopes and dreams onto her perfect son. Those looking for a traditional narrative ought to look elsewhere; Perfect is a gruesome, yet occasionally gorgeous high-tech take on Last Year at Marienbad with depth, I fear, that is only skin deep.
Sent to the clinic after killing a young woman, Vessel 13 spends his days “editing” himself, slicing bits of his face and inserting cheap cubes in packages that look like they contain Korean off-brand toys from the dollar store. Throughout his quest he’s guided by a woman who offers a Hal 9000-like voice allowing him space to ruminate on beauty, vanity, and his own imperfections. Produced by Steven Soderbergh, it’s an attempt at creating a sensory experience that ruminates on humanity, perfection, birth, and death taking us into the future and back to the beginning. In his way, it perhaps draws more from Terrence Malick than its producer. What it doesn’t offer is much of a coherent narrative despite giving us the very basic foundations for one including suggestive, evocative dialogue that offers a context to the scenes of human sacrifices, violence, and a too-often-repeated shot of waves rippling onto a white sand beach–the calm before the storm.
The imagination of production designers Calder Greenwood, Paul Rice, and Greg Lang, along with director of photography Matthias Koenigswieser, is stellar if not a bit like a fashion advert selling glamour along with horror. Ted Kupper’s script feels too much as only an outline for the evocative imagery dreamed up by his collaborators, attempting to link abstract ideas that are stitched together through voice-over and Gardner Gould’s kinetic editing. The effect doesn’t create as transcendent a space as Malick, with poorly-written dialogue that turns what should be evocative into something silly. It may very well reap dividends and further meaning upon repeat viewings, but Eddie Alcazar’s debut is a philosophical mind-bender that offers little pleasure and much frustration in the experience of looking. Upon a first glance, the film is somewhat hollow an experience, offering trite dialogue and an on-the-nose message about beauty and the horrors of genetic engineering taken to their extreme.
Perfect premiered at SXSW 2018 and opens on May 17, 2019.