PERCEPTION is a supernatural horror-thriller, directed by Ilana Rein and there’s beefcake in it. I’ve seen cheesecake horror before…but beefcake? I didn’t know beefcake horror existed! But it does. Although you could argue that Mary Harron’s American Psycho featured a beefcake Christian Bale in parts of the film. Regardless, PERCEPTION is a beefcake horror film for 2019 and I’m here for it. And beefcake isn’t even my type…not that I have a type.
Wesley A. Ramsey is cast in the difficult role of Dan, a real estate developer who misses his dead wife Maggie (Caitlin Mehner). We’re not sure how she died. He meets a psychic, Nina (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) who offers him a free reading and they develop a connection…of some sort. Soon, Dan is paying her to channel his dead wife so that they can fuck. Yes, they fuck a lot but it’s NOT DAN fucking the psychic, he’s fucking his dead wife, see? And the more Nina channels Dan’s wife, the more we find that something is wrong with Dan. Because Nina can see his past and it gets darker and darker the more and more they bang.
The psychic (while she is fucking Dan) has a flashback of what happened with his deceased wife: he flipped out when she broke up with him and started having delusions. We see them meet for the first time: Maggie was an artist who painted bizarre images of women. Dan falls for her instantly at an art show; he talks to her alone in the bathroom (beautifully lit like a gorgeous 80’s Art Deco exhibit); where she takes his shirt off and the next thing you know, they’re smashing in her loft, hours later.
This is beefcake horror cinema at play because there’s no real reason for Dan to take his shirt off or to show the two banging away. Not really. It’s extra. There’s a shot of Dan getting up from the bed and he is totally naked while Maggie is dressed. Showing the man naked is a twist on sex scenes, which have generally featured women bare-chested but the men clothed. PERCEPTION is directed by a woman and so we see through her eyes: we see a buff Dan stand up naked instead of Maggie.
The camera is the director’s eye and it’s quite revealing: It tells us what the director thinks is important. It’s strange to see how much Dan is zeroed in on; the camera trails him relentlessly as his mind slowly falls apart. Dan is both admired, objectified and scorned, which adds to the new-fangled campiness of PERCEPTION.
Nudity is often used to show that a character is vulnerable, but in many ways it empowers them, depending on context. I’ve always found the nudity of Linnea Quigley in 80’s horror films to be empowering, not gratuitous. She’s my favorite Scream Queen of all time, she’s so freaking iconic as Trash in The Return of the Living Dead or playing the guitar and if you haven’t seen The Return of the Living Dead yet, you have to stream it now for free on Tubi Tv.
But in PERCEPTION, Dan is vulnerable. Why is that? He’s super hot and yet he seems….uncomfortable. It’s weird. He should be like: THIS IS MY ELEMENT. But that’s not the vibe at all. What’s going on with Dan? That’s what I wanted to know. I could care less about how he looks. But the camera disagrees: It’s as if it is more important to see him having sex than to explore what is going on in his mind when it’s clear that Dan is having a breakdown.
Dan is crazy and I don’t mean a little crazy or fun crazy or sexy-crazy, I mean BATSHIT crazy, like trash your apartment and beat you up crazy. It’s obvious that he is schizophrenic because he’s delusional and needs medication. I thought I was watching a rom-com for a second because of how the scenes were lit, full-on bokeh; but I was wrong. PERCEPTION is not a paranormal romance, it’s a horror-thriller and nothing is going to end well for Dan.
Dan, who thinks he has formed a connection with the Nina-Maggie-ghost-hybrid, loses his job. He asks Nina if she will sleep with him for free because he’s out of money and she is like: NO. What? Nina has been smashing Dan for quite a while, and the dude loses his job and is desperate to see his dead wife and Nina could care less. Psychic-capitalism! But maybe she knows something about Dan that hasn’t been revealed, for Dan loses his shit when he is denied access to his spirit sex-hole and then it gets creepy. Dan is emotionally unstable and it goes there.
PERCEPTION is a campy thriller with a fun cast of POC actors, LGBTQ characters and struggling single moms. It’s a beefcake horror film about toxic masculinity. Dan is an abuser, a man-child who pushes women out of his life with his violence. We know Dan is bad the moment he shows up and says to Nina: I’m a nice guy! I don’t trust hardcore Christians or self-righteous fake ally dudes who market themselves as nice. People are rarely what they seem. Dan’s not a nice guy, he’s a bad guy, he’s done bad things, so we shouldn’t feel sorry for him. And yet, it’s hard not too.