Director Ti West
Starring Mia Goth, David Corenswet
Scott’s Review #1,339
Reviewed February 2, 2023
The follow-up to the superb horror film X (2022) is even better. Ti West directs and co-writes Pearl (2022) with star Mia Goth, who is quickly becoming a household name, especially in horror circles.
The duo creates a macabre and intelligent piece that pays homage to legendary films like The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Mary Poppins (1964) in the most wicked of ways. The film looks like a musical from the golden age of film but is instead haunting.
A24 is the place to be predominantly in the horror genre as creativity is embraced and massaged rather than picked apart and recreated by too many cooks in the kitchen.
West and Goth appear to have full creative control and it shows in the finished product.
In the second chapter of X, we are introduced to the character Pearl as a young woman living on a farm in rural Texas. Fans recall that Pearl is the old lady in X, but we knew nothing of her backstory until now.
Pearl feels trapped on her family farm. Bored and isolated, she needs more out of life than milking cows, caregiving for her sickly father (Matthew Sunderland), or disagreeing with her rigid mother, Ruth (Tandi Wright).
She lusts for the glamorous life starring in Hollywood pictures much to her mother’s chagrin. When a church-sponsored audition for dancers needed for a traveling troupe occurs, Pearl sees this as her way out of dodge and anticipates winning the contest. She is joined by her affluent sister-in-law Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Burro).
The time is 1918 and Pearl’s fiancee is off fighting World War I.
It’s tough to take my eyes off Goth, quickly becoming a modern scream queen turned upside down. She’s not the victim, she’s the villain. With her wide-eyed stare and luscious red lips, she bares a striking resemblance to Dorothy Gale, from Kansas.
Her descent into madness is slow yet always bubbling beneath the surface. We quickly get glimpses of her psychosis when she stares down her mother during a disagreement showing that Pearl doesn’t merely get into a tizzy, she goes full-throttle psycho.
And anyone who has seen X knows that the old lady has some issues.
At first, there is hope for Pearl and we enjoy her pleasure. She catches the eye of a handsome projectionist played by David Corenswet. Mutually smitten, he makes her forget her fiancee and they bond over films and aspirations.
But, once he visits Pearl’s farm and finds a maggot-covered stuffed pig, and hears noises in her house, his interest wanes. Not to be so easily dismissed, Pearl’s true mental state is revealed.
West and Goth turn the horror genre upside down when the best and most brutal killings occur during the daytime. The standard horror films occur at night so this invention ups the ante when the cinematography and lighting are so bright.
This adds to the horrific nature of the gruesome bloodletting. Pearl calmly follows her prey down the sunny driveway holding a pitch-fork intent on killing.
She repeatedly exclaims that nothing will keep her on the farm but we know that she will.
Back to The Wizard of Oz comparisons, several references can be discovered. For starters, Goth resembles Judy Garland, mainly around the eyes. Her outfits, most notably, her dresses and hair bow, pay tribute to Dorothy. Her bicycle looks like Miss Gulchs’s ride.
Goth also resembles American actress Shelley Duvall, whose best role is the suffering Wendy Torrance in The Shining (1980). Both actors have a mesmerizing stare as if to say ‘I can go cuckoo at any moment now’.
Too few modern films can be watched and re-watched but my hunch is that my first viewing of Pearl (2022) will not be my last.
A third film is in the works.
Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Lead Performance-Mia Goth, Best Cinematography