Film Review: Pearl
Director: Ti West
A24, BRON Creative
In Theaters: 09.16
While there are no Pearl spoilers in this review, there are minor spoilers of Pearl’s predecessor film, X. If you have yet to see X, I suggest sprinting to your nearest streaming service.
Get settled—we’ve got a lot to discuss. In March of this year, we were bestowed with another ode to classic ’80s slasher films: director Ti West’s X. Nostalgia pieces of the ’80s—and more specifically, ’80s horror—have been popping up for a while now, with remakes such as It (2017), Halloween (2018) and Suspiria (2018), but the significance of X lies in its originality. Rather than glorifying the genre, West critiques its sexist tropes and reinvents the “final girl.” Now, only six months later, West has released X’s prequel, Pearl, an insidious, old Hollywood-style story following the villain of X, Pearl. To talk about the movie Pearl, we first need to talk about Pearl as she appears in X.
X follows Maxine Minx, a fame-hungry adult film star with a great deal of ambition and grit. Maxine and her film crew stay at a farm in rural Texas to film a new movie, The Farmer’s Daughter, where they meet Pearl—and their final days. Pearl is a sex-crazed serial killer with pent-up resentment for beauty, sex and what we call “X factor.”
Watching X for the first time, I found myself chanting, “What the hell is going on?” While it all comes together, I was still left questioning why Pearl is the way she is: a chaotic, relentless killer. Both Maxine and Pearl are played by Mia Goth (Suspiria, High Life). As Pearl, she is coated in prosthetics and transformed into a whole new person. It wasn’t until I did my post-watch research that I even realized Goth played both characters.
Goth yet again plays Pearl in the prequel—only the younger version of her, set in 1918. The film takes place during the height of the Spanish Flu pandemic and World War I. Pearl’s husband, Howard (David Corenswet, Look Both Ways) is serving overseas, leaving Pearl on her family’s farm to take care of her ill father (Matthew Sunderland, Out of the Blue) and to assist her mother (Tandi Wright, Derby Dogs) in farm and familial duties. Pearl grows lonely and resentful and decides to chase her dream of being a dancer after things go awry on the farm due to her increasingly unstable relationship with her mother. Much like Maxine, Pearl is hungry for fame and glamor. Her shy and colorful personality gradually gives way to her insidious and deranged side as the film unfolds.
Pearl is unlike any prequel I have seen. It doesn’t solely exist to expand on the original. It embellishes X and answers our lingering questions, but can stand and shine on its own. The film will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest interpretations of what prequels can be, and it is likely even one of the best A24 films at large. X makes sure to replicate ’80s tropes, editing, score, wardrobe and more. Pearl accomplishes the same with its old cinema style—it’s a beautiful whirlwind of emotion, theatrics and bloodshed. How can a film about a serial killer be beautiful, you ask? You’ll just have to wait and see.
Goth’s performance is comparable to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker: Despite Pearl’s apparent flaws, you find yourself falling in love with her character, becoming surprisingly tolerant of her outstandingly deranged behavior. Her delivery of recluse emotions hidden by a frightening smile is reminiscent of Margot Robbie’s performance as Tonya Harding. Near the end of the film, Goth delivers a nearly 10-minute, bone-chilling, emotional rollercoaster of a monologue that willl not go unnoticed. As Goth has a resume of fairly small independent films, the X franchise will officially elevate her to the top of the pyramid as a leading lady, and I am eager to see her take on more starring roles.
As a prequel, Pearl has an inherent level of predictability to it that X did not, but this feels intentional, as it both reflects its era and exists as an origin story. If you’re expecting to be scared and experience an almost unreasonable amount of gore, X is more the movie for you. Although Pearl has its share of gore, its more disturbing ambiance will linger in your mind a week later when you are attempting to fall asleep.
A spoiler version of this review likely would have gone on far too long. Announced just days before its release, Pearl will be just the second release in what is now an X trilogy. MaXXXine—which will follow Maxine’s life in Hollywood after the events of X—will be released soon (perhaps as soon as six months—the length of time between X and Pearl). With West releasing each part of the trilogy neck-and-neck and, additionally, having Goth play both stars, he is proving to be one of the more brilliant directors of our time. It’s made clear that West is a horror guru and that the X franchise is his love letter to the genre, all while breaking horror “rules” and reinventing them. Pearl especially hones the idea that the human mind is far more horrifying than anything supernatural, and I’m impatient to see how West continues the lore in MaXXXine. –Birdy Francis
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