MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ti West
Starring: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Emma Jenkins-Purro
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
What It Is: In this prequel to X, it’s 1918, and a young woman named Pearl (Goth) has big dreams of becoming a famous actress and dancer, but is stranded at her childhood farmhouse with her paralyzed father (Matthew Sunderland), strict German mother (Tandi Wright), and husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) away at war. Desperate to attend an upcoming audition to perform at a local Christmas recital, Pearl finds herself inspired and attracted by a handsome projectionist who convinces her she can do anything (and anyone) if she sets her mind to it. The reactive Pearl takes this literally, leading her to try and change her future for the better–by force.
What We Think: Another day, another slay. Mia Goth and Ti West return in what has to be one of the quickest sequel turnarounds of all time. Thankfully A24 invested in the project as a pre-planned series, so neither installment as far has felt forced or rushed. Inspired by technicolor, mid-20th-century psychological horror/thriller such as Peeping Tom or Suspicion, Pearl is a sardonic black comedy slasher that lets us watch its iconic titular villain burn at her brightest, or, emotionally struggle and do terrifyingly awkward and awful things for an hour and a half. Early in the film, Pearl, in her very element shows signs of severe anger issues and sociopathy, an exciting and promising start to the ultraviolence that is to come. While anyone could say Pearl doesn’t nearly go as hard as she does in the film’s predecessor X, she proves herself still as a delightfully charismatic yet absurdly melodramatic antagonist. Goth shines, bringing just as much of a powerhouse performance as the two she delivered in X (as both Maxine and an old, senile Pearl), though her as Pearl definitely brought more of a range that was as entertaining as much as she was discomforting, impressively so. Pearl’s hysterical, childlike nature is funny and cringy to watch, Napoleon Dynamite-esque in her quirky, dreamy innocence, hilariously juxtaposed by Pearl’s capability of murder and perversion. The end credits of the film are creepy to a scientifically-proven degree, it’s cleanly paced throughout with scenes that don’t overdo the message, and overall make for a satisfying stand-alone film. The fact that it’s a prequel and has the context and easter eggs it does makes it all the more memorable and impressive. My only major critique is, for whatever reason, the filmmakers couldn’t or didn’t fit in much of Pearl’s husband Howard, the other major original villain from X. I was excitedly curious to see how Howard evolved into the crazed senile old man that murdered how ever many people for the sake of his beloved wife Pearl, but we as the audience can easily connect the dots on how that could have gone down, and it may be a movie all its own for another time anyway.
Our Grade: B+, Another perfectly debaucherous addition to West’s filmography, Pearl stands as a simple yet polished dark comedy slasher that provides enough laughs, performative creativity, eye candy, smart edits, tongue-in-cheek writing, and uncomfy tension to make for a fun cinematic experience. The charm and aesthetic that the eagerly-released X-trilogy brings makes a strong contender as being one of the better horror series in recent memory, and certainly makes waiting for its third and supposedly final installment, Maxxxine, worth the short wait. This series, with its strong characters and thrilling, constant bouts of brutality is surely making its mark on the revival of elevated genre films.