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A prequel to the film X, the critically-acclaimed horror film about a young cast and crew who gather to make a porno on an elderly couple’s Texas farm in the 70s, only to find themselves up against a an unlikely murderer.
Pearl is set on the same farm 50 year earlier, in 1918, and tells the story of a farmer’s daughter who, while caring for her sick father under the watch of her devout and miserable mother, longs for the glamorous life she’s seen in movies…until a series of events drives her to become unhinged.
Ti West (X) directed the film and co-wrote the script with star Mia Goth (X, Emma, A Cure for Wellness).
Even if you haven’t seen “X,” if you’re a horror fan, you are in for a treat. This is the movie Martin Scorcese described as “a wild, mesmerizing, deeply – and I mean deeply – disturbing 102 minutes.” (full review)
Pearl is not your typical horror-slasher film. It peels back the layers and years of an antagonist’s life to understand the family, the time period, and the environment that shaped her to become so deranged later in life – in this case, as the elderly version of her the film X.
Yet even as a psychological thriller, Pearl is full of surprises. The film begins by immersing us into a technicolor version of the early 1900s, as if we’ve been dropped into The Wizard of Oz. You forget you’re watching a horror movie, as pigtails, vibrant colors and dance numbers fill the screen. We have been taken into Pearl’s imagination, rich and vast and full of repressed desires that the filmmakers capture with brilliant visuals, period costumes, and choreography.
Pearl and her mother discuss events from a newspaper, with hints of a “sickness” that causes people to wear masks and avoid big crowds (the film was shot secretly during COVID, but this is the early 1900s, and the details are convincing). We get to know the younger Pearl as we would a protagonist of her time, and I found myself feeling kind of sorry for her as she’s mistreated by her mother, who deflects all of her unhappiness onto her.
But as the story unfolds, and with it more disturbing scenes, we start to realize just how twisted she is becoming, even as she struggles to curb her darker desires. In X, I think the gore and nudity may have caused a lot of people to lose interest. But there was a specific reason for it, and this film dives into that.
When you get to the last act, you understand a lot of the whys, and we’re given a moment of pure honesty from the character that I was not expecting. This is film’s most powerful moment. The audience members and I were left silent.
Pearl pays homage to some early horror films and slips in Easter eggs from X, but it ultimately delivers something wholly original and powerful.
From the fresh take on an origin story to the technicolor dream world and terrific acting, Pearl deserves to be on your radar. It is most compelling as a dissection of a broken woman who came of age during a time and in a place that brought out the evil in her.
Grown-up fans of horror. Pearl has several disturbing scenes and earns its NR rating. Those who enjoyed X and lovers of films like Misery will enjoy it, as will some cinephiles who appreciate more imaginative visual film techniques.
Trigger warning for violence, gore, and disturbing scenes. This is the movie that made it hard for Scorsese to fall asleep!
Backstory: Director Ti West worked with actress Mia Goth on the script for Pearl during a two-week quarantine before shooting the film X. After the quarantine, the script was greenlit before West did the first shot for X.