Director: Lucas PavettoWriters: Lucas Pavetto, Massimo Vavassori
Stars: Gabriella Wright, Bret Roberts, Carl Wharton
The setup is simple: Husband and wife take a weekend getaway into the countryside to rekindle a relationship that is shattered by the death of their newborn. The title, film poster, and the trailer suggest the irony of the film’s name masks the husband’s psychosis, who will not dispel his trauma within the serenity of his country home but instead unleash his rage on his wife. No spoilers here; this will, indeed, happen.
But that is not what this film is really about. It is really a schizophrenic tale of two movies; one that will emotionally engage you as an audience to help reveal the sadness that eats our young couple. The other is the violent consequence of trauma that turns the film into a typical cat and mouse game.
For roughly 45 minutes of The Perfect Husband, we see Nicola (Bret Roberts) as a nurturing husband to his depressed wife Viola (Gabriella Wright), but Viola responds to such care in bipolar fashion. At times she is grateful for the attention, and sometimes she responds with contempt. Why, after all, does she need to be nurtured after the loss of the child? What about the grief of her husband, who was only a father for minutes? It is as if he is transferring those fatherly duties by condescending to his fragile wife.
What writer and director Lucas Pavetto does right throughout this film is try to set up what we think will happen. An early scene in the film has Viola walk aimlessly through an abandoned town to temporarily abscond from her overbearing husband. The camera gazes through a bush as we hear the sounds of heavy breathing. Will this movie become The Hills Have Eyes, the Italian version? Cut to a later scene where we see Viola gather water from a well, only to hear ominous sounds from the forest that prompt her to run and pass out after hitting a branch. An elusive ranger, holding his phallic shaped rifle (bear with me here), finds her on the ground, knocked cold and unresponsive. He then uses the barrel of his rifle to caress her hair, and his expression is one of vile intrigue. Will Viola awaken in the confines of a disturbed ranger? Well, none of the above veers into what you may be thinking.
Nevertheless, these setups keep the mystery going. Consider that both plot devices could lead to a horror movie scheme that forces protagonists to cope with loss by dealing with an existential crisis so extraordinary that overcoming it means returning to normalcy. Such a conceit certainly works as it did for Blake Lively in The Shallows and Katie Seigel’s intriguing deaf/mute character in Hush. But that is not what happens in The Perfect Husband. The mystery and the violence will unfold once the couple works to reconcile their loss, and that reconciliation is the moment this film turns into a violent showdown.
Unfortunately, such a breakdown dissolves into exploitation. The horror that Nicola unleashes unto his wife is disturbing. Viola, by the hands of her husband and other random characters, will be beaten, dismembered, even raped. Here is the binary once again. Is psychological trauma that shatters the ego manifested in everyone’s violent id? Is this a schizophrenic breakdown in the plot or are the emotions of the audience being tested? Simply put: Why did a psychological thriller become violent torture porn?
A plot twist at the end hopes to justify and, once again, reconcile the actions on the screen. But such a conclusion may not bring closure to all viewers, including yours truly. Perhaps this film truly lives up to the title of its studio and distributor Artsploitation: Is it art or is it exploitation? Such is the problem with binaries, for once can never truly decide. The Perfect Husband epitomizes this dilemma, for it is really a story of women facing loss and perpetuating the myth that the entire burden is on them. The way Viola - and according to this film, all women - must cope with loss is to manifest feelings with physical violence. Even if the film’s conclusion attempts to explain this conceit as a metaphor for something larger, one has to accept the sexist notion that Viola cannot muster strength the way her husband does, albeit to lash out violently. But when she does use violence, it is really a coping mechanism.
Images courtesy of Artsploitation