by Ray Schillaci
The Movie Guys

Lionsgate Films and A24, writer/director Ti West and writer/actress Mia Goth deliver a technicolor nightmare/dark comedy with Pearl, the prequel to X. Ti West’s original film was a combination of an homage to ’70s slasher films and the emerging of the porn industry to the home video market via VHS. It was clever, fun and shocking horror with an incredible twist and a great performance by Mia Goth. This time around, Ms. Goth plays Pearl, the demented old woman from the first film. But, now we get to see what caused her to snap at a young age.

Where writer/director West delivered a sweet spot with X, he rolls out Pearl and astonishes film fans from the very beginning with an opening right out of the golden age of Hollywood: music, titles and all. By the end, you’ll feel as if you’ve experienced a demented cross between The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Psycho with some very graphic death scenes. It’s almost hard to take it all in because you can’t believe what you are seeing and that is in large part due to Mia Goth’s bonkers performance that deserves all of the accolades and a brave push for a Best Actress nomination.

Even though the movie takes place in 1918 Texas, writers West and Goth have some very relevant issues drawing parallels to today. Influenza is ravaging the public, most people are wearing masks (sound familiar?). Pearl’s family are German immigrants and fear sticking out for threat of violence. So Pearl’s mother, Ruth, keeps her on the farm with chores and to take care of her invalid father. But, Pearl longs for a different life. The life she knows she can live – to become a famous dancer in the moving pictures.

She dances around the barn, the animals as her audience, privately in her bedroom, and in the middle of a cornfield with a scarecrow, and he turns out to be more than just a dancing partner. Pearl is also repressed sexually. Her husband is at war and Pearl struggles with her desires. She also does not like to be scolded, made fun of or looked down upon. This is what erupts Pearl’s terrifying temper that can leap out in the most vicious of ways.

mia goth as pearl, holding an ax in front of a barn

Whenever she has the chance, Pearl sneaks away to town to go to the movie theater and looks on glassy-eyed at the screen fantasizing about what she could be someday. That fascination is tested when a dapper projectionist offers her some insight into life and tells her she is invited anytime to catch a movie for free at his projection booth. This only tugs at Pearl’s desires even more.

In the meantime, Ruth is somehow privy to most of Pearl’s secrets and she eventually puts her foot down. Mother even goes to the point of insisting that Pearl will not audition for the church dance show. Pearl knows in her heart that the dance show is her ticket to stardom. The two go at it and the tirade equals the fight between Carrie White and her mother (Carrie ’76) and we know how well that went.

I’ve purposely left a lot of spoilers out, because there are far too many edge-of-your-seat moments, and I refuse to ruin the fun. West and Goth have crafted an incredible origin story for a sad villain and the director’s film only makes her more frightening than she was during X. What is great about this prequel is that you do not have to see the first film to enjoy this terror train of a ride. This is a stand-alone that needs no introduction. But, seeing X only adds more to this demented character study.

West and Goth have not crafted an ordinary horror film. They’ve developed something truly unique. Theirs is a very bizarre character and era study that echoes Ken Russell and David Lynch by way of Hitchcock. West has gathered a great production team that delivers his vision two-fold. The production, art, set and costume design is a loving, nearly Disney tribute to the era with Eliot Rockett’s both lush and grim cinematography sweeping us into Pearl’s reality. And, Tyler Bates and Tim Williams’ music score not only carries us along with Pearl’s wondrous delusions but also takes us slowly down that deep grim well of psychotic breakdowns.

X started off as just a single film with Ti West not only returning to his roots but having a great deal of fun with it and giving us something that was much, much more. The film became a hit spawning Pearl with Ti West and Mia Goth creating West’s best work yet. Plus, there’s a possible trifecta with the upcoming Maxxxine, focusing on the survivor Maxine, the young aspiring actress in X. What makes this franchise so uncommon is that it’s not just horror. Ti West is now standing out as one of the rare directors that will give us something so different, it’s worth going to see on the big screen. With Ti West’s franchise, he is out to dissect filmmaking eras and their effects on society. At the same time, he’ll manage to throw in some thrills and chills.

As we anxiously wait for the third installment, Pearl is out there with that frightening Cheshire cat smile looking as if she’s either going to take a bite out of us or give us a big warm hug. The film is so delightfully quirky it’s hard not to recommend even for the faint-hearted. With Pearl, Ti West may even come across like Mia Goth’s Svengali as we get a performance we will never forget. The year is not over yet, but I cannot foresee a better horror entry than Pearl.

Pearl is available to rent for $4.99 or purchase for $19.99 at Amazon
Lowest Price: Blu (including DVD + Digital) – $21.99 – Amazon

Directed by: Ti West
Release Date: September 16, 2022
Run Time: 103 Minutes
Country: New Zealand
Distributor: A24

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