Right after the premiere of Ti West’s movie X at SXSW back in March, he made the surprise announcement that he had secretly filmed a prequel centring on Pearl, one half of the villainous elderly couple from that film. Not only that, but at the movie’s wide-release a week later, a post-credits scene showed there was already a trailer. Now just a short 6 months after that announcement, that prequel is already here as the simply-titled Pearl.
Taking place all the way back in 1918 amidst World War I and the Spanish Flu outbreak, young Pearl (Mia Goth) has big dreams of leaving her family farm and becoming a big movie star. Unfortunately, her days are entirely spent taking care of her sick father (Matthew Sunderland), being verbally abused by her mother (Tandi Wright) and hoping for the return of her husband Howard from war. Determined for success at any cost, her more violent tendencies rise more and more to the surface, putting everyone around her in grave danger.
Similar to how X was West’s direct homage to the grimy 70s slashers like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Pearl is his twisted ode to the sweeping epics of Old Hollywood like Gone With The Wind. The technicolor palette, the frilly costumes, even an elaborate dance number, feel reminiscent of something like Oklahoma, albeit with a lot more blood. Even the score (done by X composers Tyler Bates and Chelsea Wolfe) feels ripped straight out of an epic before dropping the pretense to something way more creepy.
“As someone who merely liked X, I was shocked how much I enjoyed Pearl.”
Aesthetics aside, a movie like Pearl lives and dies off the lead performance, and Mia Goth delivers a show-stopping performance here. Late in the film, a conversation between Pearl and her sister-in-law Mitzy (Emma Jenkins-Purro) leads to an amazing monologue where she has an amazing one-take monologue wherein she has a tearful mock conversation with her husband throughout the movie. Pearl is a genuinely tragic character, and you genuinely sympathize with her need to escape her isolated surroundings. It also makes those sudden bursts of violence that much more uncomfortable. The movie also features a cut to credits that is both funny, sad, and scary all at the same time.
The only issues I really had were that with this being released so soon after X, there’s a number of moments throughout that are meant to be callbacks, from a reference to Pearl lacking “X-factor” to a scene where she watches a stag film for the first time. While they both make sense in relation to where Pearl ends up in the other movie, it feels like it hasn’t earned the iconography it’s trying to set up.
As someone who merely liked X, I was shocked how much I enjoyed Pearl. While it’s not a wild bloodbath like the last movie, I think it’s a brutal, creepy character study.