Pearl is the second entry in Ti West’s X-verse, following the main antagonists’ origins from the first movie. The titular Pearl, played again by Mia Goth (nice name) is an isolated farm girl at the tail end of the War to End All Wars with grand aspirations that her flair for dancing will be enough to spirit her away from her menial existence. Though bubbling under that simple and pleasant smirk is as our Main would say “sump’tin’ jus’ terrible,”.
This is a great follow-up, or backtrack, to Ti’s earlier instalment, the character is fully fleshed out and it is a great contribution to not only the slasher genre but the significantly more exclusive female slasher.
Now it’s no secret that this is shot in technicolour. All the adverts plastered that on them, along with comparing it to the Wizard of Oz. But Pearl is more than psychotic sex starved Judy Garland with an axe that gets her rocks off on a scarecrow, she’s tragic. Think Sherly Temple raised by Margaret White and forced to watch what remains of her father shake in agony, unable to speak. The Oz reference is an apt comparison considering that in both films the story doesn’t go anywhere. I do not mean that as a negative or mark against this movie or the classic, I didn’t care that the events were all in Dorothy’s head, but in the case of Pearl it’s very much real and you know from scene one that nothing made her the way she is. She just is.
This movie shines not only in the technical sense. Of course, a Ti West movie looks beautiful and is playful in both shots and edits. What got me were the small details. First, this takes place in 1918, during the height of the Spanish Flu, you regularly see people in public areas wearing masks. How times have changed.
The score is fantastic, grand and silly like the films of yore but there is a slight detail that I found interesting; the climactic crescendo has always skewed a touch macabre. It doesn’t matter if it’s sex, murder, or failing an audition, it’s the same score, telling me that this is entirely Pearl’s point of view and even though she is disgusted with her actions but she can’t help it. Proving that she has always been this way.
Alternatively, one could make the argument that the trauma and isolation caused her psychosis and this is represented in a gift her in-laws gave Pearl’s family, that her proud and suborn mother refused, a cooked succulent pig that progressively rots throughout the film. This I feel is a red-herring as both Pearl and her mother have referenced her always being a monster. A talk that strangely enough my mother and I had, though ours didn’t end with her enveloped in flames and me hiding the body.
The other character too is well established, well except for her husband Howard who is mostly absent from this movie, having chosen to fight in the war. The projectionist, played by David Corenswet, is the sexiest film slicer since Tyler Durden, and he is simply quite charming.
The man opens his doors to show Pearl things she’s never seen before, both in film and in the boudoir. That’s French. He’s bohemian. Trust me it was clever. And I was saddened when he met his demise since he was fairly honest and polite, a likeable victim something that should be more available in modern horror. Mitzi, Emma Jenkins-Purro, though bland is meant to be to counterbalance her sister-in-law’s madness and is a good insight into what Pearl wants to be. Tandi Wright plays Pearl’s overbearing and emotionally strained mother who knows what’s going on, and last, though there are no speaking lines I feel Matthew Sunderland was fantastic with their portrayal of a mute invalid giving glances that showed there was someone still there and they were terrified.
The imagery is great. As is the cinematography. Practical, that’s right, practical effects galore, if there was CG it was done tactfully and sparingly. The writing, done both by Ti and Mia, shows love and understanding for this character and you feel that; Pearl is the villain and even she knows it, but she doesn’t want to be. In writing, we always talk about the flawed hero being a rounded character and primarily the flaw in the villain is their hubris, but not here. Pearl revels in her murders when they happen but after is left hollow, loathing herself for what she’s done, regretting not only the action but the pleasure it brought. You know, an analogy for sex. And we the audience learn not only visually but are directly told, I know-I know, the tenant of the visual medium is shown not told, but with what felt like a nearly five-minute monologue without any cuts, and expressions changing going through the entire range of human emotion, Mia Goth deserves an Oscar.
In summation. Get your ass to the theatre and watch Pearl.