REVIEW: Getting to know ‘Pearl’ is amusing and frightening

The beginning of Pearl’s path from sweet farm girl to the woman she became in the film “X” is on full, technicolor display in this prequel.

Taking place in 1918, “Pearl” follows the titular character, played by Mia Goth, as she descends into madness. There are a few factors pushing her there, but the main one is her mother, Ruth (Tandi Wright).

Ruth is a domineering woman, never showing compassion to her daughter and instead deriding her for wanting something beyond the farm life. That something is a career in dance, but as time gets closer to an audition that could give Pearl an escape, things begin to happen that awaken a darkness in the character.

Writer/director Ti West and Goth, who co-wrote, wisely took this prequel in a completely different direction than its 70s-style counterpart. While “X” was a slasher inspired by the likes of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Pearl” focuses on the story of a character finding themselves, albeit the story is a deranged one.

The film takes a traditional plot of a character preparing for a major event, like an audition, that will be their big break and successfully mixes it with horror elements to make an entertaining experience. From the very start, Pearl has a deadly, manic personality inside her, and watching it emerge as the movie plays out while she still dreams of being a lovely dancer is wonderfully twisted.

“Pearl” is also darkly comedic in the way the titular character remains sickeningly sweet while still having her murderous tendencies. The fact that Goth’s Pearl often appears so innocent that she’s reminiscent of Dorothy from “Wizard of Oz” while also always on the verge of violently snapping is humorous in a way that’s similar to Kathy Bates in “Misery.”

Courtesy A24.

Also similar to Bates, Goth gives a phenomenal, captivating performance. She can pull sympathy from a viewer in one moment and freak them the Hell out in the next.

The character’s charming country girl persona, her growing tenacity to get what she wants in life and her increasingly present psychotic nature are all brought to life successfully by Goth. All of it is especially noticeable in a long monologue the character gives in the third act.

The film’s aesthetic is also worthy of praise. West and director of photography Eliot Rockett, as well as the set and costume crew, did really great work in giving the film a rich visual identity. The era looks spot on, there’s a vibrancy because of the technicolor look and there’s some really solid use of the camera, especially later in the movie.

There was a nagging feeling with “Pearl” that it could have had more going on, though, notably in the horror department. There are only two good kills in the movie, and it leaves a person really wanting more. As a whole, the narrative isn’t that expansive so another slasher kill could have gone a long way.

Still, “Pearl” is a very strong entry into the “X” film series, which has another movie on the way. Goth, and the rest of the cast for that matter, are quite good, the movie looks nice and there are plenty of chilling moments. 3.75 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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