Deliciously Unhinged, Yet Heartbreaking, Pearl (2022) Confirms Lightning Strikes Twice
First Non-Festival Release: September 16, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Ti West
Writer: Ti West, Mia Goth
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Starring: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Matthew Sunderland, Tandi Wright
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Pearl transports viewers back sixty years to 1918 Texas, where Pearl’s (Mia Goth) story really begins with her day-dreaming about one day becoming a real star. With her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) off fighting in the war, Pearl is left to support her strict mother (Tandi Wright) in tending to their farm and her sick father (Matthew Sunderland). When a church group comes into town spreading news of a travelling dancing group, Pearl’s sister-in-law Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Purro) convinces her to sneak out and audition with her. Unknown to everyone else, Pearl finds more support in a bohemian film projectionist (David Corenswet) at a local movie theater, which leads to a one-night stand. As Pearl’s desperation to leave the family farm increases, her self-control to hide her innermost desires decreases.
Unexpected in the best ways, Pearl is a prequel that provides depth as much as it seeks to entertain thanks to its star and director.
Rich in detail and purposeful in storytelling, Pearl is a wonderfully zany prequel that adds even more complexity to its source material. Subverting the expectations set from its previous entry, Pearl transforms its slasher source material into a character study of its star player. Pearl is given depth to explain her bitterness and proclivity for blood without approving of her choices.
Goth’s ability to tap into the mind of Pearl and truly become her at her lowest and most manic while still holding onto shreds of sympathy is astounding. Understanding the isolation and pressure that Pearl experiences makes it startling easy to sympathize with her, even knowing she is responsible for a massacre some sixty years later. Her fears of life passing her by while she waits aimlessly for her husband to return from war and for her father, whom she does love dearly, to die are simultaneously twisted and heart breaking. Goth clearly knows this and refuses to resort to cheap shock tactics in the name of terror that would otherwise debase her character. Pearl’s descent into madness is both captivating and horrifying.
One moment stands out beyond the rest and that is Goth’s nearly ten-minute monologue towards the film’s end which is shot in a single, breathless take. Goth comes undone as Pearl confides, confesses, and unravels in front of Mitzy after learning that she is not chosen by the troupe. Her storytelling ability and devotion to the character is evident in her surrender to Pearl’s madness. This pivotal moment is where Pearl accepts that her life will never amount to anything and all that she sacrificed in the name of achieving her dreams is for nothing. It’s heartbreaking as it is horrifying knowing that she is also rationalizing away the cruel murders of her loved ones and friends. That is what makes Pearl as a character so riveting and much of that credit goes to Goth in her phenomenal performance.
Despite set over one hundred years in the past, what is truly exciting about this film is its uncanny eye in drawing parallels between the eras in poignant ways eviscerating the thirst for fame without talent, delusions of grandeur, and even interweaving commentary on pandemics without feeling preachy is remarkable. Look no further than TikTok to find millions of people searching for fame or supporting it by engaging in content made by real people wanting validation, attention, and/or a platform. There isn’t inherently wrong with that desire and Pearl makes that clear with Mitzy as a foil to her instability. It’s when reality sets in and a person refuses to accept the cards they have been given where problems arise.
Beyond its unique formula and musings, Pearl is a beautifully done film. Had the early 1900s possessed the technology we have today, their films would likely bare the same sunny optimism and naivete that Pearl emits. Its bright color pallet and costumes, homey sets, and simple camerawork make this character study horror film truly pop.
Technicolor old timey horror with a compelling villain origin story, Pearl is every bit as unhinged and important as its predecessor. As compelling as X, Pearl shines in different ways, allowing director Ti West to shift gears from slasher to purposeful character study Mia Goth gives another incredible performance by giving humanity, depth, and even more terror to the titular murderess. For those that already know the glory of X, watching Pearl is a no-brainer, for those that have seen neither, take this as a sign that you need to check out these classics in the making as soon as possible.
Overall Score? 7.5/10