Closing out night one of Fantastic Fest this year was the world premiere of The Perfection, a grindhouse thriller that defies explanation — and expectations.
The film tells the story of two acclaimed cello prodigies, played by Allison Williams and Logan Browning, who meet and, after seemingly hitting it off, become entangled in an increasingly intricate web of deceit and ulterior motives.
Along the way, The Perfection veers between body horror, psychological thriller, and revenge fantasies, all wrapped up in a non-linear storyline. What results is a film that's equal parts cerebral brain teaser and blood-splattered gorefest, which had theatergoers watching most of it unfold from the spaces in-between their fingers.
"I'm a huge fan of Korean films The Handmaiden and Oldboy, and I feel like what [Park Chan-Wook] does with structure is incredible," director Richard Shepard told audience members early Friday morning at the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Austin, Texas, immediately following a midnight screening that left everyone’s jaws on the floor once the credits rolled.
"I have had this idea of two people on a bus, one of them being sick for 10 years," explained Shepard, adding that it came about around the time he got sick himself on a bus while in Mexico — proving inspiration really can come from anywhere.
After meeting with writers Eric C. Carmelo and Nicole Snyder, Shepard said he believed he had the second act of a movie, then worked with them to craft the story that would come before and after the idea he had.
"We wanted to create a movie in which you don't quite know what's happening," Shepard explained. "It became a deeper and more interesting movie once we delved in and got past the bus and figured out who are these people."
When it came to casting, Shepard had Williams in mind for his leading lady from the get-go. Having worked with her during all six seasons on HBO's Girls, the director wrote his main character specifically for her. "I knew what I wanted to see her do," said Shepard. "Writing for an actor is a great thing. It helps to hear their voice."
Part of the challenge with Shephard's intricate storyline is how each character took turns being equally sympathetic as well as antagonistic.
"We had to chart out when we wanted people to feel positively or negatively — or ambivalently — about each of us," explained Williams, who was also at the post-screening panel, along with Browning. "A really helpful thing was I played this crazy white supremacist in my previous movie [Jordan Peele's Get Out], we really wanted people to immediately not trust me, and we needed that to last throughout the movie."
As the movie unspools, audiences' allegiance to characters alters drastically as more of the story becomes clear, which Williams said was a lofty, but welcome, challenge as an actor.
"At its core, it meant each of us had to be very sure of who we were playing, and the goodness we felt was in our characters."
Check out all of SYFY WIRE’s Fantastic Fest coverage all through next week.