“Pearl” – Equal Parts Heartfelt and Brutal (Spoiler Free Review)

We were first introduced to Pearl earlier this year as the elderly woman full of regret who took her rage out on young people she resented for living the life she always wanted.  Ti West’s unexpected prequel gives us a fascinating, poignant, and at times humorous look into what made her the iconic horror villain she is.

Lizzie Borden as a Disney Princess
Opening in 1918, we meet Pearl (Mia Goth) as a young woman.  Living on a very familiar looking farm, she dreams of a life away from chores, her overbearing mother, and caring for her disabled father, while her husband Howard is away at war.  She dances for the only audience she has, the farm animals, and has all the grace and energy of characters like Cinderella and Snow White, albeit with a much darker twist.

Because her life is so unfulfilling, she imagines grand scenarios with farm animals and scarecrows…

Upon going into town, she meets a sleazy projectionist (David Corenswet) who shows her an underground adult film and promises her that when the war is over she can go to Europe and be a star, just like she’s always wanted.  All the while, her mother scrutinizes her for having dreams beyond life on the farm.  She ridicules Pearl’s dreams of dancing and even forbids her from going to an upcoming audition to join a dance troop.

Eventually the tension in that house reaches a boiling point and Pearl finally does what she always thought she was capable of, but was never quite sure.  Up to that point, she had done things to animals, but now a killer origin story is fulfilled in gruesome and bloody detail!

That lagoon should look very familiar if you’ve seen X.

Starring, Co-Written, and Produced by Mia Goth
Ultimately however, it’s not the kills or the murders that make a film like Pearl stand out, it’s the amazing characterization and equally iconic lead performance.  According to director Ti West, he and Goth worked together on Pearl’s script during pre-production on X.  What’s most remarkable about the character they crafted isn’t her inhumanity, but rather her humanity.

We see Pearl commit horrific acts of violence, she’s impulsive, and definitely has psychopathic tendencies.  But what really makes her an interesting and compelling character is her relatability and self-reflection.  Who hasn’t dreamed of a life better than the one they have.  And while most of us don’t resort to murder, we can understand how such a repressive parenting can mess with a person’s head.

Despite having an incredibly strained and tense relationship, Pearl and her mother do genuinely love each other. In a way, they’re almost too similar.

But she also shows moments of regret and remorse, questioning whether or not she’s a good person.  At her core, Pearl just wants to be loved and clearly hasn’t been getting it her entire life.  There’s one moment in particular in which she reflects on it all in an incredibly poignant and heartbreaking monologue that Mia Goth absolutely nails.  Horror never gets the respect of major award shows, but if it did, Goth would be deserving of at least a few nominations for this performance.

Past and Present
Seeing Pearl completely changes the way you go back and look at her character in X, and that’s very much the point.  The previous film already did a great job making you feel for her, as well as displaying the duality between her and Maxine.  But this prequel makes her character all the more tragic.  Every time she says she can’t wait to get off the farm, you sigh with despair, knowing she’s still there 60 years later.

Having seen this prequel makes you go back and watch older Pearl, wondering what’s going through her head even more so.

Once again, Ti West uses his penchant for replicating decades by making us feel like we’re in a much older movie.  Much like he did with House of the Devil, and X, Pearl feels like a product of its time and features older Hollywood style visuals and pacing.  He even cited the Wizard of Oz as a major inspiration and had Mia Goth watch it prepare for the role.

Pearl is chilling, disturbing, but also incredibly heartfelt.  It perfectly captures another period of time and gives us an amazing lead performance by Mia Goth that rivals that of Kathy Bates’ in Misery.  If the same thought and attention to detail is given to MaXXXine, Ti West may just pull off his hat trick on this unexpected horror trilogy!

MaXXXine was just announced earlier this week. Although no release date is known yet.

What did you think of Pearl and X?  What do you hope to see in MaXXXine?  Let us know in the comments!

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