Movie Review: ‘Pearl’

Director: Ti West

Cast: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro, Alistair Sewell

Plot: Many decades before her killing spree in X, a young Pearl is living with her overbearing mother and paralysed father while Howard is fighting in the first World War. The disturbed Pearl is driven to increasingly violent acts as she yearns to become a chorus girl.

Review: Now X was a pretty good movie, borrowing heavily from the grimy horror movies of the 1970s. The cast of characters – an indie porno crew being hunted down by homicidal old famers – were surprising endearing and interesting. During the shooting of X, director Ti West and star Mia Goth took the chance to film a prequel movie with Goth reprising the role of Pearl, albeit in her much younger years. We expected this production oddity to result in the two films being very similar in style and tone – instead the Texas Chainsaw Massacre homage has been swapped out for The Wizard of Oz. This makes for a very odd pairing of experiences.

The story of Pearl (Goth) takes us back to 1918. Although married, Howard is already fighting in the Great War and Pearl is living with a strict, controlling German mother Ruth (Wright) and an infirm father (Sunderland) who needs constant care without giving away any indication of being conscious. Seemingly already leaning into psychopathic tendencies, this oppressive environment drives Pearl to seek an escape through the chance to audition for a dance troupe touring the country. As Pearl becomes increasingly reliant on this escape, her behaviour becomes more unhinged and desperate.

Mia Goth is more than the star of this movie, she is the anchor that makes all the madness work. Not only is she bringing to life three engaging characters, some more subtle than others but all with unexplored depths and one under thick layers of make-up. These are demanding roles, involving scenes of seducing scarecrows and a terrifying meltdown during her audition. There are scenes of intense dread building up to every major encounter, as we’re constantly anxious about how Pearl is going to respond.

After building his reputation as a horror director, West seems to have gone pretty quiet in recent years. Then we suddenly get this entire trilogy of horror movies with intentionally varied tones and mixing of genre that just keeps us guessing. We went into X knowing it was a slasher movie set on the set of 70s porn movie, but didn’t expect its dry humour, heartfelt character beats and unexpectedly sympathetic killers. Now Pearl defies expectations with the brighter Technicolour design and self-contained story rather than the typical back story. Pearl provides context for the characters latter actions, but it stands as its own movie. Now a character study, we see a damaged psyche reach breaking point.

Now to see what the third part of this odd trilogy will have in store.

Rating: EIGHT out of TEN