This review is part of my coverage of TIFF ’22, which held Pearl’s North American premiere.
Director Ti West has performed an interesting feat. Right after filming X, he had filmed Pearl, a prequel to it right afterwards, in secret. This makes for a well thought out, exciting prequel with a strong connective tissue between it and X. Dark, disturbing, and a ton of fun, Pearl is a surreal film that is as good as X, and yet manages to be something completely different, serving as an excellent origin story of the villain in X.
With a rough family life and dreams of being a star in the early days of film history, the titular character Pearl (Mia Goth) slowly descends into madness and becomes the murderer that we saw in X.
I’ll start off by saying that Mia Goth gives an exceptional performance. She really is the glue that holds the whole film together and turns what would otherwise be an ordinary run-of-the-mill slasher film murderer into what I fully believe to be an iconic one. It helps that she co-wrote the film. She is clearly talented in ways other than acting, and her part in writing the script must have let her truly embody the character on the screen. She makes for an excellent villain, and it is her performance, along with the solid script and great direction, that makes Pearl live up to the expectations set by X, yet be something so different. I also have a soft spot for “descent into madness” stories, so I especially particularly enjoyed this character’s arc. It’s not executed in the same way as other horror villains who wound up the same way. It’s very interesting how they told Pearl’s story, and Mia’s acting made as amazing as it is. If the Oscars had any respect for horror, Mia Goth would easily land a Best Actress nomination.
There was so much of this film that truly astonished me. An intense and beautifully staged long take, a really long monologue expertly performed by Mia Goth, and the films closing shot are some of the many genuine surprises from this film. It uses a lot of interesting editing techniques, it’s visually gorgeous with a technicolor look to it, it feels almost magical in some really demented way.
The visual style matches the era in which the film takes place. It’s set during the early days in the history of film, and during the Influenza pandemic which ties into the story in some very interesting and timely ways. Visually Pearl showcases what is clear inspiration from early films. The allusions to classic films and the general inspiration from such films are cleverly implemented. I would never expect visual homages to the likes of The Wizard of Oz in a horror slasher flick, but here we are. Pearl definitely still takes similar inspiration from films that X took from, such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but its different era and clear shift in visual style allows some clever little references to be inserted into its visual palette.
If you haven’t seen X, you can watch this film on its own and still gain a complete understanding of it and avoid confusion, but watching X beforehand will still make for a better experience, as you will be able to appreciate the throwbacks and references to X and view it as the origin story that it is.
Pearl is as good as prequels get. We of course know what ends up happening, especially if you’ve see X, but we didn’t know the how until now. And the how is a thrilling character piece that digs deep into the inner psyche of a murderer. If you love horror, definitely check this one out.
Film Grade: B+