I rolled my eyes when I first heard Pearl was happening. I mean, Ti West’s X just came out this year, and it was already getting a prequel? It couldn’t be necessary. But damn, I was wrong. Pearl is directed by West and written by West and Mia Goth. While Goth played our protagonist, final girl in X, in Pearl, she plays the eponymous slasher at the heart of the story. And while I enjoyed the pair’s first outing together, Pearl is even better. The film stars Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, and Emma Jenkins-Purro.
Weird, twisted, sad, and weird some more, Pearl is a vibrant technicolor narcissism-fueled descent into violence. The film is equal parts a pandemic tale and an unhinged nightmare. Set in 1918, Pearl feels trapped on her family’s isolated farm. There, she must tend to her ailing father under her devout mother’s bitter and overbearing watch. While Pearl is obsessed with becoming a dancer and movie star and achieving the glamorous life that comes with it, this ambition puts her at direct odds with her stern immigrant mother.
Pearl wants to be in the pictures, and her mother wants them to survive with a roof over their head, food in their bellies, and healthily away from the pandemic. So repressed and restricted, our lead performs for the animals she cares for when she isn’t feeding her pet alligator the small animals that unfortunately cross her path. But when Pearl meets the projectionist at the theater in town and then has the opportunity to audition for a traveling dance troupe, her longing for the limelight becomes strangled by her antagonistic relationship with her mother, her wifely duties, and the reality that people in her standing don’t become stars.
As a villainous origin story, there are moments when you start to feel bad for Pearl. Her life is stalled because of the influenza pandemic, because she married a military man who left to fight in WWI, and because her mother has painted her into a corner of caregiving and working. That said, the film doesn’t keep this empathetic look at our lead. Oh no, it skewers her narcissism and the selfishness that propels her violence. All of which seem extremely pointed as the audience watches from year three of a pandemic that didn’t end thanks to the selfishness of individuals.
We track Pearl’s descent as she becomes more erratic, and the life she longed for and thought was finally in reach slides out from between her fingertips thanks to her own behavior. Sure, our spree-killing baddie does seem to realize the error of her ways at one point, but West and Goth’s script never lets the audience truly be on her side. The break she suffers is something unfixable, and in the film’s final act, Goth delivers a monologue of loneliness and regret. She’s afraid of herself but angry at everyone and everything she views as having ruined her life. Pearl is gorgeously scary, and Goth’s entire being is thrown into this moment of reflection and admission of guilt. There is a sadness and a fury that she quickly slips in and out of as she feels the weight of years fall off her shoulders.
This film is gorgeous, weird, and mean and has a certain level of chaos that is absolutely worth the watch. Not only that, this prequel works entirely on its own. In fact, watching X immediately after my screening of Pearl was an experience that I can’t wait for others to experience. Without directly referring to each other, Pearl enhances everything that made X special while being a film that is exceptionally different from its predecessor. Pearl is a star, just not for the reasons she wanted to be.
Pearl is in theaters nationwide on September 16, 2022.
This film is gorgeous and weird and mean and has a certain level of chaos that is absolutely worth the watch. Not only that, this prequel works completely on its own. In fact, watching X immediately after my screening of Pearl was an experience that I can’t wait for others to experience. Without directly talking to each other, Pearl enhances everything that made X special while also being a film that is extremely different than its predecessor. Pearl is a star, just not for the reasons she wanted to be.