Directed by: Ti West
Premise: A prequel to 2022’s X. Set in 1918, Pearl (Mia Goth) lives on an isolated farm with her parents while her husband is away fighting in World War I. She loves the movies and dreams of escaping her agrarian life.
What Works: Pearl is distinctly different from X. The first movie was a straightforward slasher film whose primary point of reference was the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Pearl is a character study and it is made in a style that recalls the Technicolor films of the classic Hollywood studio era such as The Wizard of Oz. X had a lot of very obvious references to the slasher films of the 1970s; Pearl’s homages are a little less on the nose. The change in style is appropriate. Not only does it give Pearl an identity of its own, the visual style also situates this film in a particular time period and supports the themes of this story. The title character is a woman who wishes for an escape from the banality of everyday life. This is a familiar storytelling theme but Pearl has a bit more going on. This woman doesn’t just want fame and glamour. She’s looking for validation and Pearl goes violently mad when that path is denied. The show business element ties Pearl and X together and this is a very successful prequel. It stands on its own as a story unto itself but Pearl also deepens and fundamentally changes our understanding of the events in X. This film has a great performance by Mia Goth in the title role. As she did in X, Goth is willing to take risks and throws herself into the role. Pearl is deranged but she’s also empathetic and even vulnerable. Goth performs a lengthy monologue near the end of the film that is one of the best movie speeches of recent years.
What Doesn’t: Pearl isn’t as viscerally frightening as X. It doesn’t have the same atmosphere of dread. The horror is in the contrast between the violence and the colorful visual style and that approach is appropriate for this film. The end of Pearl comes across a bit truncated. Pearl has to fit into the continuity of X and the plotting feels a bit forced in this regard. There is also one glaring credibility problem. Quite a few people get killed and we’re to believe that no one came looking for any of the victims or put together Pearl’s link to their deaths.
Bottom Line: Pearl is unhinged in exactly the way a horror film should be. It may not have the immediate dread of X but it does something more complex by visualizing this woman’s madness in a way that is disturbingly empathetic.
Episode: #920 (October 2, 2022)