Earlier this year, director Ti West delivered a wild, but fun 70s horror throwback with X. As audiences underwent this flash-to-the-past journey they would eventually discover that West has a bigger picture to offer them. At the end of X, another film gets teased, promising a more complete portrait on the character of Pearl. A mere months later, his prequel film is now opening in theaters. The aptly titled Pearl reveals the dark history of the elderly murderer and assures the X fans that we will get to learn what exactly made her the utterly frightening killer she was in the first installment.
The year is 1918 and Pearl is a wide-eyed and seemingly sweet young lady living and working at her parent’s farm. Meanwhile, he beloved husband Howard is overseas fighting in World War I. Though Pearl appears to have a positive attitude and a big heart, she is certainly someone haunted by dark thoughts and a mostly unhappy life, both of which make her lash out in some disturbingly violent ways. The quiet and simple farm life is simply not for Pearl. She loves to dance and dreams of becoming a professional dancer for the stage, and perhaps cinema. However, Pearl’s homicidal tendencies will eventually prove to be her undoing.
Written and directed by Ti West, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mia Goth, Pearl is quite remarkable in its presentation style and aesthetically looks gorgeous. Since this movie takes place in the second decade of the twentieth century, West and his team present Pearl’s story as if it belongs in the golden age of cinema. The rich and vibrant colors of the cinematography, the score and just the way Mia Goth portrays her character makes the experience feel and appear, as if this movie was shot and released in the 1930s. It is quite the brilliant experience seeing what is essentially a disturbing and darkly comedic horror movie presented in the old fashioned manner.
Getting back to Goth’s performance, the immensely talented actor shines beautifully and appropriately horrifically. When Pearl appears sweet and innocent, Goth portrays her, as if she were a character intended for either a young Judy Garland, or teen/young adult Shirley Temple. It’s amazing how subtlely she can make the transition from sweet to violent at times, while in other moments the change can occur at the snap of a finger. I believe it is one of the best horror performances of the year.
While I very much enjoyed much of what this film has to offer, I was a little disappointed that the development of Pearl’s story doesn’t completely satisfy. For me, there simply wasn’t enough bad things happening to her to make me believe that she would absolutely go over the edge. And it’s not that I enjoy watching characters get abused, but I feel something was missing from her story. A stronger catalyst that would make her turn more genuine.
Regardless, of this complaint, I still very much enjoyed and appreciated this movie. I feel that fans of X are certain to enjoy it too. For anyone who hasn’t yet watched X, I believe that it is a better experience if that movie is enjoyed first. Watching these movies in chronological order definitely spoils the surprises in X. It is like watching all of the Star Wars movies for the first time in chronological order. It definitely would spoil a huge reveal. Watch X at home, and then go see Pearl. After that we will all have to wait until the next installment, MaXXXine, gets released.