I’ve mentioned a couple times recently that there seems to be a trending return to the erotic thriller format of the 1990s, this year alone represented at the very least in the films The Boy Next Door, Fifty Shades of Grey, and My Mistress. The latest contribution to this genre throwback is The Perfect Guy, which is somewhat similar to the JLo vehicle The Boy Next Door in that it genderswaps its stalker & villain roles. Traditionally played by dudes like Michael Douglas in oldschool erotic thrillers like Fatal Attraction & Basic Instinct, the victim is much more disconcertingly vulnerable when cast female. When the protagonist Leah (Sanaa Lathan) complains to friends & police officers that she is being stalked & harassed by an ex-boyfriend, they make it seem as if she is overreacting, playing a game of “blame the victim” that is all too real in the context of how we typically treat domestic abuse. This female victim/male perpetrator dynamic of The Boy Next Door & The Perfect Guy bring the erotic thriller genre into some distinct 80s slasher territory, one that’s met with some inevitable, but satisfying revenge plot machinations in the third act. It’s a genuinely fun formula, given that you enjoy watching well-funded versions of the kind of dreck that used to play on late night Cinemax. I know I do, anyway.
What most distinguishes The Perfect Guy from its fellow erotic thriller throwbacks is the over-the-top aspects of the villainous Carter, played for optimum cheese by Michael Ealy. Although Ealy’s stalker/killer is not as well-defined in his motivations as, say, Mark Lewis in Peeping Tom, he is a remarkable collection of disquieting quirks that make the picture way more fun than it has any right to be. Early in the film Carter is portrayed as, well, the perfect guy, a viable alternative to Leah’s go-nowhere relationship with a more reserved boyfriend with commitment issues (Morris Chestnut). Carter is literally to good to be true. After an ice latte meet cute, he fights off unwanted lechers who hit on Leah at bars, refers to motherhood as “the most important job on the planet”, charms her parents more than any other man she’s ever taken home, and generally makes the facial expressions of a mischievous kitten. He also has a little bit of a bad-boy edge, taking Leah to secret backalley clubs & introducing her to the joys of fucking in public. When Leah jokes, “This is the part of the movie where you kidnap me & sell my organs.” she has no idea just how sour things will eventually turn. About a half hour into the film, Carter snaps in a pure fit of jealousy & viciously beats a stranger for merely talking to his girl. The maudlin romance music suddenly gives way to hair-raising violins & things really start to get fun.
Carter is a total weirdo. Once Leah breaks it off with him, he sneaks into her house to sensually kiss the lipstick smears she left on her dirty wine glasses, huff the smells from her bedroom pillows, stare at her from behind closed closet doors, and longingly suck on her used toothbrush. Of course, he also uses his professional background in “corporate espionage & IT protection” to install spyware on her computer & set up hidden cameras in her bedroom. When he’s not following Leah around or sneaking into her home, he’s brooding in the cold blues of his internet dungeon, watching from a remote location. As if this weren’t enough of a creepy violation of privacy, he even goes as far as to silently hide under Leah’s bed as she’s boinking her old beau. The sole police officer who works to protect Leah from this dangerous freak amusingly observes, “He’s a robot,” but I feel like the movie had something else in mind completely. Brief shots & mentions of wild coyotes roaming Leah’s neighborhood poses her stalker’s behavior as oddly animalistic. As Carter transitions into full serial killer mode in the film’s second hour, often appearing in the misty ambiance of a full moon to close in on his kills, I kept thinking to myself “I wish, wish, wish that it were revealed that he was a werewolf this whole time.” It would’ve made a lot more sense than you’d think & it would’ve exulted the film from moderately fun to one for the ages.
Alas, there are no werewolf transformations in The Perfect Guy & the film follows a fairly strict genre trajectory of slowly escalating revenge that eventually results in a Final Showdown, Leah finally taking control of a situation that makes her unusually vulnerable for a normally self-sufficient woman. The story is undeniably told from Leah’s female perspective, its erotic aspects leering far more on her two admirers’ sweaty back muscles than it ever does on her own body (although, curiously, there is no onscreen man-butt). In fact, I think it’s fairly safe to say that the film would fail the gender-reversed version of The Bechdel Test. The only times men are depicted alone in conversation, they’re discussing Leah & their relationships with her. It’s only right, then, that Leah gets her revenge arc, refusing to accept Carter’s “If I can’t have you, no one will” proposition/threat. Watching her smash up his internet dungeon, compromise his employment, beating him mercilessly with kitchenware, and otherwise besting him at his own game is certainly satisfying in the context of the erotic thriller genre. I just can’t shake the feeling that a werewolf transformation would’ve escalated the entertainment factor a thousandfold, especially considering how much of Carter’s presence was so far outside the realm of typical human behavior. Maybe the werewolf angle is something Michael Ealy can actively search out in a future project, making good use of those creepily pretty eyes & Skeletor cheekbones. As is, the werewolfless The Perfect Guy is a perfectly satisfying, breezily watchable erotic thriller, one content to skip long periods of time (including entire months, funerals) to speed up its ludicrous harassment & violence. Anyone who had fun watching The Boy Next Door earlier this year is likely to find equal (if not bested) pleasure here, especially in Michael Ealy’s eccentric performance.