Stories set rules for themselves. Sometimes those rules come through dialogue, like in Gremlins. Other times stories use visual cues to tap into the knowledge that viewers bring in with them. If viewers see a rickety old mansion like the one in Crimson Peaks, they’ll be disappointed (or for the less hearty, relieved) not to see any. Eddie Alcazar’s feature-length directorial debut Perfect spends its first act establishing a dream-logic that falls somewhere between The Mirror and Lost Highways.
It starts with an image I couldn’t identify. It strobes. Alcazar is using this abstract image to let viewers know that the film isn’t going to be using the visual language of traditional films. A man off screen ponders, “All these aspects of myself, all of these thoughts, how do I heal them? How do I unify them? How do we create the ‘we’ to an ‘I’?” The quote tips off audiences that this is a film exploring self-improvement.
The man continues, and soon after that monologue, Perfect cuts to something more tangible: the room where a young woman has been murdered. The camera hops around in extreme-close ups around the room. It’s the most concrete the film is going to get. There’s a voice over of Vessel 13 (Garrett Wareing) begging his Mother (Abbie Cornish) to come home now. From there, the film hops to Vessel 13 being sent to a facility. The film doesn’t explain what happened or if Vessel 13 is being forced or going by his own free will. It cuts out a lot that minutiae.
Alcazar excises those details in favor of playing with imagery. Perfect is a collage. He draws from 80s computer game style imagery — a realistic eyeball in an 8-bit green pyramid; a transparent human outline with a wire-frame body floating in space. He contrasts it with surreal natural fantasies — a man eating a baby to represent “the animal brain”; eyes replacing nipples in a human chest — and a recurring shot of waves crashing onto a beach. There are voice overs over nearly everything, though Alcazar rarely chooses to show us the speakers while they’re talking.
Vessel 13, who may be an “automaton,” is on a healing journey. For the first act, he’s pressed to choose a path. No matter what he choses though, the facility does its work with neural implants. Once he makes a choice, the robotic voice in his room explains, “Because this is a personal journey, you will install the upgrades yourself.” To do that, Vessel 13 needs to cut out a piece of himself with a switch-pen knife. He pulls out a red hunk, and replaces it with a transparent implant that comes in an action figure box.
No doubt about it, Perfect is an experimental film. It seems to be trying to offer incisive cultural commentary. The blister-packaging of the neural implants seems to suggest that Alcazar is targeting consumerism and the way it reprograms humans beginning with their childhood toys. The film also hints that it’s a commentary on the way striving for perfection leads to fractured minds, seen in Mother’s lament, “I thought you would turn out different. I wanted you to be perfect.” Or maybe it’s aimed at whether or not humans can adapt the technologies they’ve created, frequently referencing “the animal brain” that worked on “the Savannah” (accompanied by caricatured images of “tribes”).
It’s not interested in the young woman who was killed at the beginning, though. It throws a wrench into anything, because if Vessel 13 is a murderer, the drive to improve him is different than the drive for anyone who hasn’t committed murder to improve. He’s not an accurate representation of all humans, or all Americans. He’s from a much smaller, non-representative subset: murderers.
Whatever Alcazar intended in Perfect didn’t land. Everything said in the voice overs is too general. Something like, “Fear hardly leaves any room for love” is faux-philosophy. It lacks the nuance to challenge viewer’s preconceived notions because it’s too general. The rest of film falls into that same hole: everything is very general leaving it open to too much interpretation. It covers too much ground to cover any at all.
Perfect VOD launches exclusively from Breaker.Io on June 21, 2019.
Wicked Rating – 6/10
Director: Eddie Alcazar
Writer: Ted Kupper
Starring: Garrett Wareing, Abbie Cornish
Studio/Production Co: Brainfeeder Films
Run Time: 87 minutes
Release Date: June 21 2019