Life rarely works out the way we want, this is the sentiment Ruth (Tandi Wright) rigorously attempts to instil in her deranged daughter Pearl (Mia Goth).
Directed and written by Ti West, and co-written by Mia Goth, Pearl is the second installment in the X horror trilogy and gears up to be a sadistically fun time. Set in 1918, the film follows a sensitive young woman desperate to leave her parents’ farm. Motivated by her grandiose dreams of dancing, Pearl is a woman pushed to the brink of pure violent frenzy.
The horror flick is a prequel to West’s 2022 slasher X, which follows a group of young filmmakers as they venture to a rural location to shoot a porn film. Whilst X detailed the gruesome consequences of adult filmmaking in the late 1970s, Pearl takes place years prior, when the marvel of American cinema was just beginning.
Despite her best efforts, Pearl is trapped in an environment she is unable to escape. Left to rot on a farm by her husband who is away fighting in the war, she is stuck with her stern mother and her sickly father. Her only solace is found with the animals she declares her audience. Dreaming of a career on the stage far from farm life, she feeds her delusions as a way to cope with her gruelling, hostile environment.
Quickly, Pearl establishes itself as a charming, colourful spectacle of reactive femininity as it opens with an idyllic dance sequence. Instantly we are introduced to the pure dreamer that is the character of Pearl, and the calming essence she so desperately seeks. Visually, the film reflects this. The dream-like state of Pearl’s mind is mimicked around her. The entirety of the film is bursting with vivid colours and blissful, emotive music. The vibrant nature of Pearl is most noticeable in the bright, full red blood – a minor but charismatic detail.
Mia Goth is undeniably divine as she pours every ounce of emotion into the role. Pearl’s screams and cries, as striking as they sound, are mere reflections of the genuine misery and resentment spewed into her captivating vulnerable monologue in the final act. The most refreshing aspect of the character is her honesty, which Goth delivers wholeheartedly. She begs us to put ourselves in her shoes as she chops and slices her way to almost stardom. Justified in her murderous actions or not, it is hard not to root for Pearl as she violently grasps for control.
It’s impossible not to empathise with Pearl, as ultimately she is rejected time and time again only for being herself. She faces rejection on all fronts, from her mother to her quest for the big stage. What provokes Pearl into madness is the confusing yet consistent dismissal she experiences from those around her. The intense and chaotic nature of herself frightens every soul she comes into contact with, eventually leaving her in complete isolation.
It’s almost too easy to pit X and Pearl against each other. To accurately declare which in the X trilogy (so far) is “better” is to take away from what West and Goth are so obviously building. Pearl feeds into the narrative of X in a way that only further deepens the porn slasher flick upon a second viewing. Whereas the origin of Pearl would be impossible, and far less influential, without the existence of X. These stories live to evolve and develop each other, not to compete or outshine one another.
Rather than commit to what countless film franchises try (and fail) to do – which is to recreate the same story again and again – Pearl goes for an entirely different approach. Whilst X was a seductive, raunchy slasher showcasing the devilish quest for youth and sexual freedom, Pearl is an intense emotional character study of a woman bound to her dire circumstances.
Overall, the prequel to X showcases the best of what the horror genre has to offer. A simple and sinister depiction of broken dreams, it’s hard not to love Pearl.
Pearl was released in US cinemas and on VOD in 2022. It is now in UK cinemas, having premiered at Glasgow Film Festival 2023.
by Kelsie Dickinson
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