It’s well known that pearls are formed when an oyster coats some internal irritation in layer upon layer of (essentially) mucus.
That what is beautiful and sought out is the result of an inherent wrongness, supressed and supressed and supressed.
Pearl, Ti West’s prequel to his slasher movie X, explores the origins of its titular character who would go on to such infirm infamy.
What Is Pearl About?
Whilst The Great War is fought across the Atlantic, young Pearl (Mia Goth, reprising her role) lives on an isolated farm in Texas with her German immigrant parents.
Her fiancé is abroad fighting, her mother is cold and controlling, and her father unable to speak or move.
She dreams of becoming a dancer, like the glitzy women she sees in films that she sneaks away to watch at the local cinema.
Whereas X sought to emulate the 70s sexploitation slasher, Pearl takes its visual cues from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
West deploys sweeping Technicolour style opening credits and soft focus to the extent that, at least at first, you feel that Dorothy and Toto are just over the hill in Kansas.
Throughout all this glossy sheen, all is not right. Goth’s standout performances in X (both under heavy prosthetics and as an emotionally stunted victim) get fully realised in Pearl.
Goth holds your attention rapt. The underlying psychosis is already bubbling away in Goth’s eyes as she actualises her frustrations out on animals and her helpless father.
Yet no monster is born without that irritation being coated in the slime of circumstance and Pearl layers up the triggers for it’s young murderess to be, where her sense of entrapment, sexual frustration and naïveté combine into poor decisions all round.
When it comes time for her to deliver a masterful emotional collapse in an unbroken 5 minute shot the effect is all the more devastating for what could have been.
Pearl Official Trailer
Is Pearl Worth Watching?
West works in other themes. Pearl was filmed during the COVID pandemic lockdowns and thus the underlying setting of the 1918 influenza pandemic – with people wearing masks and displaying various degrees of concern about infection – hits all the harder.
It is skilfully apt to use such subtext considering an underlying message in the movie is arguably corruptive self delusion in the face of facts.
MaXXXine is due next year (2024), set after the events of X and West has said that each movie will ape a certain genre style.
The classic technicolour of Pearl is a homage rich environment that you could argue is both underused and overused.
Overused in the sense of going all or nothing at key points, but underused in the sense that it drops in and out throughout the movie.
Perhaps though, with Hollywood’s focus on the ‘big moments’ and disinterest in reality, this is the right choice.
Pearl is a definite improvement on the already solid X. Given licence to be the sole focus, Goth turns in a masterful performance and when things finally turn blood-sheddingly violent her manic release is a shuddering gasp after all the coy build up.
She and West have created a new iconic horror figure born of dreams, desire, and delusion.
Under the cloying coatings of self-defence, Pearl glistens brightly.
Words by Mike Record
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