Netflix rarely gives out data regarding the amount of people streaming their original content (and when the do they are not to be trusted), so most of the time deciding whether or not a Netflix original project is a hit comes down to the film’s dominance in generating social media buzz. Before Netflix announced its Sandra Bullock thriller “Birdbox” earned 45 million views in seven days, many had suspected it was a smash hit for the streaming giant given how overwhelming the title’s presence was on social media. Based on this barometer, it appears Netflix has struck viral gold again with “The Perfection.”
Directed by “The Matador” filmmaker Richard Shepard and starring Allison Williams and “Dear White People” breakout Logan Browning, “The Perfection” centers around the increasingly twisted relationship between a troubled music prodigy (Williams) and the new star cellist at her former school (Browning). Netflix dropped the horror-thriller on May 24 and it didn’t take long for the title to dominate internet chatter over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Search “The Perfection” on Twitter (check out the results here), for instance, and you’ll find the movie being met with nonstop shock, outrage, and addiction by viewers, the perfect combo that helps propel Netflix genre movies into viral sensations (see “Bird Box”). Throw in many viewers complaining the movie’s body horror elements are making them physically sick and “The Perfection” is quickly becoming Netflix’s version of a midnight cult movie.
Part of the film’s viral success has to do with Netflix’s bait-and-switch marketing. The streaming giant debuted the official trailer for “The Perfection” on April 15 to little fanfare (as of this writing the trailer does not have over one million viewers), mainly because the film appeared to be selling the kind of twisted rivalry horror movie that “Black Swan” had already perfected. Netflix covered up the real outrageous twists in the film’s marketing, all but ensuring viewers would go to social media to react to what the film is really about and thus encourage other Netflix subscribers to see what all the fuss is about. For Shepard, nailing the art of truly shocking movie twists came from his love of Korean cinema and the master Park Chan-wook.
“I felt like the way certain Korean cinema is willing to twist things completely is something that’s not done in American movies,” Shepard recently told Entertainment Weekly. “American movies might have a twist or something but the way that the Koreans look at it is so different — it’s not only a twist, it’s almost like another movie.”
Shepard specifically used Park’s adored lesbian thriller “The Handmaiden” as a key source of inspiration for “The Perfection.” The filmmaker wanted each moment in his movie to match the “creepy and odd” tone Park nailed in his 2016 thriller. One scene in “The Handmaiden” finds Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) forced to perform sensual readings from S&M books in front of an audience of potential buyers, and it’s a moment Shepard found more thrilling and twisted than any scene of graphic violence.
“You can keep people on the very, very edge of their seat without having to necessarily be action-packed,” Shepard notes. “If the tension is in the character it can actually be even more tense.”
Using Park Chan-wook as his guide to nailing twists, Shepard stuffed so many unexpected shocks in “The Perfection” that the film was essentially written to be a word-of-mouth internet hit regardless of quality. Fortunately for Shepard, critics have mostly been supportive of “The Perfection” (84% on Rotten Tomatoes). The film is now streaming on Netflix.