Feeling as though he and his wife are drifting apart, Nicola decides to take Viola out to a remote cabin in the woods where it’ll be just the two of them with no distractions. A plan that seems to work in the beginning as they treat their initial stay as if it were their honeymoon. Eventually Viola starts to feel like there’s something not quite right and it isn’t before long that her suspicions are proven true when Nicola handcuffs her to the bed. A romantic weekend soon turns into nightmare of violence and torture.
As a fair warning, this review is going to contain massive amounts of SPOILERS. We try as hard as we can to avoid spoiling any part of a movie if we can, but in order for me to talk about issues with “The Perfect Husband”, I have to get into key plot points. So, be advised, this review contains SPOILERS.
In my last review I talked about how “Killbillies” was a successful movie because of its technical competency, even though the movie overall was extraordinarily basic. Coincidentally, with another title from the fine folks at Artsploitation, we get to see the opposite side of the spectrum with “The Perfect Husband”. A movie that has a solid base for an idea, but because of how it was executed, the movie ends up falling flat on its face even though on the surface it doesn’t necessarily come across as a bad movie.
And the reason I say “The Perfect Husband” falls flat on its face is because the entire movie is hinged on a twist. In general, having a twist is fine as long as it works in favor of the change in narrative — which should go without saying. The problem with the movie is that there’s nothing established or set in place that allows the twist to work.
“The Perfect Husband” is a psychological-thriller about postpartum depression and how that disorder turns a barely surviving marriage into horrific violence and abuse. So there is a strong concept in place that an effective movie could be built off of. Now that twist I was mentioning, it’s revealed that the abuse is all in the wife’s head (she believes her husband is trying to murder her) but she is in fact the one who is abusing her husband. A twist that would be really strong in subverting expectations while delivering the same message about mental health and spousal abuse.
Because they didn’t properly utilize a twist that completely changes the narrative the movie falls apart upon the reveal. The reason for that is because everything that lead up to that point is shown in awful flashbacks as either, not happening the way we thought it did, or didn’t happen at all. If the scenes didn’t happen at all, then that’s a waste of a viewers time because they had no barring on the characters or story. If scenes are merely inverted, then something has to be in place to indicate that something’s off in that initial narrative. Subtly, of course, but something to indicate that there’s more going on than what we’re aware of. You can accomplish that either through performances, through editing, or scene structure in general. In a good movie you would have all three.
And when you use that sort of twist it should change your entire perspective and your viewing experience. It should make you want to go back into the movie a second time and notice the clues that were in place that may have been missed. While the “Sixth Sense” has become a pop-culture joke, that film’s use of this kind of plot device allowed even simple character interactions to be vastly different when going back through the film.
In “The Perfect Husband” there is only a single scene that does anything to inform the viewer that something is askew. When the wife is rescued by a park ranger from being lost in the woods, she inexplicably tries to reach into his pants. A bit obvious, but a decent moment in setting in place that there’s something wrong. But because it’s only in this one scene, it simply comes off as a strange moment that doesn’t make any sense. There are attempts at creating misdirection and an uneasy atmosphere, but the movie never indicates what it is — is it a monster, is it a ghost, is it something else entirely, etc. That misdirection is abandoned when the movie downgrades into scene after scene of a husband punching his wife in the face. Again, that uncertainty of there being something in the woods could have been tied back into the twist, but like everything else, it wasn’t. We, the audience, understand that it ties back into the wife’s mental state, not through context (like it should be), but because of basic logic.
The other problem the twist creates is that, in the end, you hate both characters. When a movie is dealing with a genuine issue like PPD, a twist revealing that the woman’s mental health is causing her to lash out should leave us with sympathy for both the husband and the wife. However, for the last 15-minutes, we have been watching the husband brutalize his wife. We don’t really know either character, and in the end, we’re left with characters that have been or are nothing but monsters. There’s no empathy for these two and there’s no attachment because the audience is given nothing to relate to. There are some mild attempts in the beginning, but again, everything takes a back seat to exploitive violence. And when you’re watching two characters (comically) maim one another, any emotional elements that may have been established is gone when the movie is more interested in showing limbs being severed with an axe.
When I say the violence is comical it’s because “The Perfect Husband” takes everything over-the-top. In dealing with a very real subject matter like this, it doesn’t take much effort to make scenes of a husband beating his wife to a bloody pulp effectively upsetting. And this movie could have and should have been upsetting and sickening yet we get scenes that are oddly executed (the wife holding herself up between two trees while getting punched repeatedly). One scene in particular looked like it came straight out of a Sam Raimi movie when a redneck gets his arm cut off and it cuts to the wife getting hosed in blood while she screams. Gore-based slapstick is not the way to go if you’re looking to make a provocative horror film.
A scene like that goes to show the overall tone-deafness of the film. For argument’s sake, let’s say that the over-the-top, comical nature of the violence was intentional. Fine, but you don’t pair that up with a story that’s about PPD or is in a psychological-thriller environment because they don’t work together. That’s the general problem of “The Perfect Husband”; it doesn’t understand the technical aspect of its own story or the language of film, really. On the surface, “The Perfect Husband” looks good and follows a general structure relatively well — it looks and acts like a movie. But the reliance on a twist and the lack of an understanding of how to implement it into a story that features conflicting elements breaks any quality that might be there. Which is a shame because, as I said, there is a good concept here but the lacking technical aspects of the movie is ends up hurting it in the end.