Pandemics: who knew they were so popular? After Children of Men, Blindness and Contagion in recent years, now comes Perfect Sense. Whereas Steven Soderbergh’s bird flu thriller from last year took a much more clinical, scientific approach to its material, Perfect Sense instead frames a love story around the tale of a society that has suddenly lost its ability to smell. This film from David Mackenzie (Young Adam) is such a curiously inert experience that never satisfies as a romance, a sci-fi drama or as a social parable. To use its own ideology, Perfect Sense doesn’t have its own unique sense to be truly involving, instead giving off the aroma of a rather stale, beige affair.
After a brief set-up that demonstrates the effects of a mysterious plague take hold, the film quickly detours into the usual cattlecall of pseudo-apocalyptic film clichés. There are religious zealots, rubbish-littered streets, paranoid crazies, grey skies (why are these films never set over Summer with everyone in shorts and bikinis?) and fabulous designer jackets. One really must remain movie-star chic when the world appears to be ending. The film more or less turns its back on the science of the whole ordeal–although one character has a humorous gag about a benefit of the loss of scent being not having to smell the pungent droppings of scientific lab rats–instead preferring to follow Ewan McGregor’s (Beginners) chef, Michael, and Eva Green’s (The Dreamers) epidemiologist, Susan, as they fall in love whilst noodling about her apartment extolling virtuous nothings about the human condition and our place in the universe.
Soon enough the population dissolve from mere loss of smell to debilitating paranoid breaks, self-harm and the eventual loss of other senses. In one rather odd montage sequence, people are overcome by the ravishing need to eat anything and everything in sight including bouquets of flowers, raw lamb carcasses, lipstick, bottles of cooking oil and even a poor, live bunny rabbit. Wrong place at the wrong time, I guess, for that critter. The loss of taste that follows is cause for one of the most bizarre seduction scenes of all time, as Michael and Susan share a bath together and proceed to lick shaving foam off of each other’s faces before biting down onto bars of soap. How erotic.
At the point that hearing loss takes hold, the audience is unfortunately not given such respite. Flat narration continues to parade about transparent platitudes on the meaning of life and love right up until the very end. In fact, the film’s sole moment of genuine pathos occurs right before the screens cuts to black and the credits role, which is frustrating beyond belief as the previous 87 minutes were so mopily uninvolving. A lovely melancholic score, impressive sound design and smart art direction help make the time pass in a way that’s not altogether awful, but they are hardly film-saving. The term “direct-to-video” isn’t the damning claim it once was, but in this case it makes perfect sense for Perfect Sense to bypass yawning theatres of bored cinemagoers with its grimly uninteresting take on the human race’s downfall.
Perfect Sense is out now on DVD and Blu-ray through Madman Films