"Pearl" stars Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, and Emma Jenkins-Purro. Released on September 16, 2022, the film has a young woman developing dark intentions while dreaming about a glamorous life.
The film was directed by Ti West, who also directed films such as "The House of the Devil", "The Innkeepers", and "In a Valley of Violence". It is a prequel to West's 2022 horror film "X". Every villain has an origin story depicting their path towards murder and savagery. The same goes for the ones in slasher films, where they have the sudden urge to slaughter everyone in their way, including the innocent ones. This weekend sees another origin story being unfold, but for a deranged killer introduced in a film that was released months ago. Ti West made a miraculous return to the horror genre in March with "X", a refreshing slasher film that combines "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" with porn. Additionally, it introduced us to the most unsuspecting and psychotic killer in horror history: an old lady named Pearl. Some may wonder how and why this woman had the urge to murder the young film crew. Others might say she's just a crazy older woman for no reason whatsoever. Luckily for us, this movie has the answer they're looking for, for better or worse, depending on how they feel about the film's depiction of violence and sex. You might've noticed it from the teaser that showed after the end credits in "X". We all thought it was a joke at first, but to our surprise, it turned out to be the real deal as West filmed it in secret following the first movie. Since I enjoyed "X" when it first came out, I was glad this prequel existed. So was the film able to serve as a bloody good follow-up, or would it be better off as only a post-credit joke? Let's find out.
The movie is set in 1918 during the era of the Spanish Flu pandemic and World War I, many years before the massacre in "X" occurred. The story centers on a young Pearl (Goth) living on a Texas farm with her German immigrant parents. She constantly spends her days tending to her ailing father (Sunderland) and working on the farm under the watchful eye of her bitter and devout mother, Ruth (Wright). After discovering the world of film, Pearl pursues her dream of being a chorus girl. Unfortunately, her journey to have a glamorous life takes a toll on her sanity as her ambitions and temptations lead her down a murderous path.
"X" is regarded as a highly influential slasher film that's heavily inspired by the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" franchise regarding its style and scares. More importantly, it's known for exploring how independent filmmaking affected society in the late 70s. "Pearl" carries the same influence as its predecessor but offers a distinct style that distinguishes it from the horror gem. The movie still contains the violence and sex shown in "X", which is enough to satisfy those who like that stuff. However, it also pays homage to the classic melodramas of the early 20th century and explores how Hollywood filmmaking influenced people. Since I deeply admire filmmaking, these influences were enough for me to see how "Pearl" fares compared to its predecessor.
Amid its movie influences and Technicolor filmmaking aspects, "Pearl" is a basic origin story of how Pearl became a psychotic teen-killing lady we know in "X". It showcases how she's familiar with filmmaking and what drove her to commit the awful murders. This narrative can be challenging to pull off since the character is a demented and murderous killing machine that shows no mercy. As far as I'm aware, no one wants to sympathize with someone who kills teens at an old farm. Fortunately, the prequel found a way to make it work for me. Not only is it a fresh depiction of Ti West's world of "X", but it's also a compelling and well-crafted horror prequel that delves into the deranged mind of one of the most creepy slasher villains in the genre.
One thing to know about the film is that "Pearl" doesn't precisely fall in the same veins as "X" regarding its tone. While "X" was a teen slasher film reminiscent of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", "Pearl" is more of a psychological drama that happens to have a few slasher elements in it. It's a tragedy in which Pearl attempts to follow her dream and escape the life she's forced to live, only to discover who she's really meant to be. It's a story we heard many times before, but "Pearl" portrays it in a highly engaging and wickedly clever way despite a couple of pacing issues. People hoping for it to be another simple slasher film like "X" may be disappointed with the final result, but those who aren't would probably enjoy what it offered, including West's direction and the film's homages.
Regarding his style and script, Ti West understands the fundamentals that popularized the sub-genre of horror and the movies from the golden age of Hollywood. Additionally, he isn't afraid to provide subtle psychological moments to shock audiences instead of constant jump scares and over-the-top violence. West also did a great job envisioning Pearl as the psycho girl we've come to expect but also as someone who's filled with internal pain and longs for a better life. The film is another proof that Ti West is a confident and ingenious filmmaker who knows how to frighten people through shocking violence and disturbing nature.
Of course, the filmmaker isn't the only person who brought Pearl to life, as Mia Goth returns to embody the character that made me recognize her talent. Goth was excellent in her dual role in "X" as both Maxine and Pearl via prosthetic makeup, so I was excited to see her back in the villainous role in "Pearl". Thankfully, the prosthetics were not required for Goth to play the younger version of the antagonist. Unsurprisingly, the actress is one of the best parts of "Pearl," hands down. She is simply astounding in her magnetic performance as the titular character. How she expressed her pain, craziness, and anger internally and externally were incredibly irresistible and terrifying that it's hard for me to look away. If this performance doesn't get Goth into the "Scare Queen" hall of fame, I don't know what will. The rest of the cast was also great in acting alongside Goth. Tandi Wright is just as discomforting as Pearl due to her performance as Ruth, and David Corenswet is pretty good as the young projectionist Pearl encounters.
Another element that left me impressed was how the film's structure is portrayed. "Pearl" easily represents a film you'd see in Hollywood's golden age. Of course, this is due to the cinematography and editing, which were stellar in recreating the aesthetics of its old-fashioned presentation. Then you have the musical score by Tyler Bates and Tim Williams, which provides a healthy mix of frightfulness and light-heartedness. With these aspects, the movie delivers a near-perfect tribute to one of Hollywood's historical moments from an influential and stylistic perspective.
Overall, "Pearl" expands Ti West's horror world introduced in "X" with a terrifying and captivating origin story that's as demented as the titular character. Aside from some minor issues with the pacing, the film is a refreshingly creepy follow-up that could represent a brighter future for the film series. Yes, I did say "film series" because, as of this writing, West is developing a third film titled "MaXXXine", which is set after the events of "X". With West and Mia Goth on board, I can at least say that this is one horror franchise I'll be looking forward to in the future.