‘Pearl’ – Review

Goth is undeniable throughout the film and perfectly complements the film’s technicolor style with psychological horror, madness, and eventually violence. 

This review contains spoilers for the film, X, as well as brief spoilers for the film, Pearl

While X was Ti West’s ode to exploitation filmmaking in the 70s as a slasher film, Pearl, the prequel, is a much different experience as a cautionary tale about suppressing desires and lost dreams. Pearl starts in 1918 following Mia Goth’s Pearl, the younger version of the older woman Goth portrayed with heavy prosthetic work in X, as she has big dreams of making it in the movie industry. Pearl is enriched with style and its cinematic influences as it pays tribute to Hollywood’s Golden Age. Pearl’s husband, Howard, is away in Europe fighting in World War I while she’s at home taking care of her father, played by Matthew Sunderland, and living under the rule of her strict, German mother, played by Tandi Wright.

Pearl feels trapped, not only in the house, but in a world that feels too small for the star she feels she’s destined to become. Not only is she stuck on the farm with her parents, but society is also staying home while the world is dealing with the height of the Spanish flu pandemic. People out in the streets wearing masks, avoiding close contact, and constantly worrying about bringing home germs. Pearl, with a mask in tow, ventures to a movie house where she meets a self-serving projectionist, played by David Corenswet. He sells her the dream of making it in the movies in Europe, continuing to build the escapism in her mind. While she finds escape in visiting the movies, the escape is short-lived. She returns home to the farm and is immediately scolded by her mother for being away for too long and that she needs to clean up her father. Her mother runs their farm like a tight ship as it is made clear the farmhands were let go and the family is solely responsible for all the work. Pearl starts the film acting out her dreams while performing the farm chores as she dances while feeding the animals and milking the cows, but as her sister-in-law, played by Emma Jenkins-Purro, informs her of a dance audition, both Pearl’s mood and motivation change. She needs out of this life that feels mundane and she needs out now.

For a prequel film, Pearl is still bubbling with suspense as the audience follows the titular character through her next choices. We know she stays on the farm, but at what cost to her? After an intense showdown with her mother, violence ensues, and the real Pearl is freed. The tension has been building and building to her audition. A beautiful spectacle WW1 inspired dance audition ensues and Goth shines here. West really lets the moment breathe, but not for a second too long. He allows the audience to be right there with Pearl, even if we know she has already committed such heinous crimes, we feel for her. The screenplay, co-written by West and Goth, allows us to feel some sympathy for Pearl while knowing she becomes a future villain. An intense monologue performed by Goth not only shows Pearl’s depleting mental state but allows her to fully transform into the Pearl we were introduced to in X. Goth is undeniable throughout the film and perfectly complements the film’s technicolor style with psychological horror, madness, and eventually violence. 

While X thematically tackled repressed desire and the horrors of aging (for some), Pearl does something different here. In Pearl’s monologue, she comes to realize she understands her mother now, she knows that while she wants to become a dancer on the silver screen, maybe her mother had dreams too. Maybe her mother lost out on dreams because she became a wife, a mother and then a mother-like aide to her husband. Pearl touches on not only adjust expectations for life as you grow up into new responsibilities, but also what it can do to your mental health as you learn to live with the loss of your dreams. Pearl finds comfort in her mother and imagines her singing a lullaby to her after her rampage of violence as the film shows her fall back into her childlike mindset. 

The imagery, and beautiful score, set Pearl apart from its predecessor as a character study with Goth’s incredible performance leading the film to be one of the most unsettling, fun times at the movies all year.

Grade: B+

Oscar Prospects:
Likely: None
Should be Considered: Lead Actress, Original Score, Film Editing

Release Date: September 16, 2022
Where to Watch: In Theaters

Kenzie Vanunu
she/her @kenzvanunu
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky
Sign: Capricorn

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