In March, Ti West released X, a slasher with an unusual villain—a horny old woman named Pearl who resented losing her youth and the opportunities that came along with it. Soon after the film's success, it was announced that a surprise prequel to the film exploring Pearl’s origins had filmed concurrently with X and would be released in the fall with Mia Goth reprising the role. As someone who really enjoyed X, Pearl quickly joined my most anticipated films list.
Pearl takes place in 1918, and unlike X which mimicked the style of the horror film in the decade it was set in, Pearl does its own weird little thing. Pearl lives an unsatisfying life on a farm with her parents while her husband is off serving in the war amidst the Spanish flu pandemic. Her father is an invalid and her mother is an overbearing disciplinarian. Her only joy is seeing pictures at the local theater where a handsome projectionist befriends her and convinces her to set her sights on stardom. Her sister-in-law presents her with the perfect opportunity to be discovered when she tells her about a traveling dance group that’s holding an audition. Pearl is determined to make her dreams a reality, no matter how deadly the cost is.
Mia Goth shines once again under Ti West’s direction playing a different leading role than in X. She makes Pearl complex and fascinating. She proves once again that she’s a true horror queen, especially with her chilling monologue near the end. I just wish she was in a stronger movie this time around. Pearl has some great moments with haunting imagery, but I can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity. It’s very slow-moving with not quite the payoff you’d expect with such a pace. With a character so explosive you think it will build to a huge climax, and thus the end result feels a bit underwhelming given its potential.
In the end, Pearl feels too inconsistent from X and it’s to the film's detriment. We don’t get to explore what should be a central relationship for Pearl with her husband (which was crucial in X) and its omission leaves a glaring hole in Pearl’s story. Though Goth gives it her all, the resulting film ends up feeling like too much, but not enough at the same time.