The Reel Review
This prequel to director Ti West’s 2022 horror/thriller X is the early 1900s origin story of the character Pearl, who evolves into a serial killer while being stuck on a farm in rural Texas with her ailing father and ultra strict, German mother. Frustrated by her circumstances, and with a husband fighting overseas in WWI, the tragically lonely and emotionally volatile Pearl has dreams of becoming a movie star.
With the deadly global flu pandemic of 1918 serving as a claustrophobic, madness-inducing backdrop, West gradually builds his horror to a 1950s style Technicolor palate and a grandiose score more common in a joyous, musical of that era. The juxtaposition is jarring, unexpected and completely unnerving. But it is his co-writer Mia Goth (Emma., Suspiria) who evokes both sympathy and wide-eyed horror as poor Pearl becomes a bloodthirsty killer. Goth is an acting tour de force – even delivering one epic, award-worthy monologue in the film’s climax.
The biggest fault of X, West’s prior, also well-done horror film, was its cringeworthy ageism – how it cruelly poked fun of the elderly as sexual beings. With Pearl, there are no such missteps. It is an unforgettable horror experience. Stay through the credits.
• Pearl was secretly filmed at the same time as X, greenlit by A24 after director Ti West and star Mia Goth collaborated on the script via Facetime during a mandatory two-week COVID-19 quarantine in New Zealand.
• A Free Ride, the 1915 silent-era short film featured in Pearl, is believed to be the oldest surviving pornographic film in existence.
• Ti West says he will follow up Pearl and X with the sequel MaXXXine, which will again star Mia Goth as the titular character who makes her way to Los Angeles following the nightmarish events of X to become a movie star. West says the film will be about how home video affected people in the 1980s.