Director: Ti West
Cast: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Emma Jenkins-Purro, Tandi Wright
Genre: Slasher horror
Duration: 1h 42m
It’s the Second World War. Pearl (Mia Goth) is an overly sheltered girl on a remote farm in Texas. While her husband is away at war, Pearl is stuck in a dreary home. The poor girl is constantly pushed around by her domineering and religious mother (Tandi Wright). To make things sadder, Pearl has dreams of becoming a star which she conceals because her parents would be horrified at this ‘scandalous’ career. ‘Pearl’, a prequel to 2022’s ‘X’, is a story about a young woman’s intense desire for life’s pleasures which inevitably collides with repression, and results in terrifying outcomes.
Characterisation of Pearl
‘Pearl’ is one of the best character studies of 2022. The titular anti-heroine is a complex, rich and multi-dimensional character. She is a perfect psychological case study of repression and desire that culminates into violence. Pearl appears to be innocent and childlike at first. But screenwriters Ti West and Mia Goth immediately make it clear from the beginning that absolute innocence in our world is unattainable, especially when one grows up in a destitute family and secluded farm in Texas.
Even as Pearl dances and cheerfully talks to her farm animals like a heroine from a children’s Disney movie, the protagonist can just as naturally stab a goose and feed it to the alligator, with no guilt whatsoever. Childlike innocence is a double-edged sword. Children don’t know what’s wrong or right, so they are more likely to torture small animals without a heavy conscience.
The Good-Girl-to-Monster Pipeline
Likewise, the young and naive anti-heroine believes herself to be a good person no matter how many questionable things she does. Pearl’s spiral into destructive chaos is depicted slowly, steadily and, most importantly, convincingly so that when the story reaches its climax, all of us believe something like this can happen in real life.
Pearl (we never find out her surname) wants to escape from her suffocating household. So she puts all her hopes into a dance audition which can give her a career and take her away. And in her outstanding monologue, she bares her heart and we begin to understand how poverty can crush the human spirit, turning girls into monsters.
Mia Goth deserves all the awards for her performance as the titular character; her Oscars snub will never be forgotten. The sheer jealousy in her eyes as she contorts her face at her sister-in-law is fascinating. Her dramatic sobbing in that one scene is simultaneously disheartening and, to be honest, hilarious. Whoever doubts her abilities as a model-turned-actress will be convinced of Goth’s talent in the previously mentioned monologue.
David Corenswet (‘Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood’) is dashing as a free-thinking film projectionist whose name West never reveals. Emma Jenkins-Purro is similarly brilliant and engaging as Mitsy, Pearl’s chirpy and high-class sister-in-law, towards whom Pearl harbours complicated feelings.
Cinematographer Eliot Rockett was inspired by Disney princesses and 1939’s The Wizard of Oz when planning how ‘Pearl’ (the movie) should appear. West and Rockett pay tribute to the classic Technicolor films of the 1940s when the screen aspect ratio was wide and the colours were overly saturated and sumptuous-looking. This choice stands out in the scenes where the protagonist steps out in her blindingly red dress and ribbon.
Director Ti West is known for making cinematic references and being inspired by past styles for his movies. While ‘Pearl’ was influenced by the aforementioned Technicolor cinema, the film ‘X’ was set in the 1970s and was inspired by 70s American arthouse slasher films. If you’re a film nerd, this aspect will play a role in making ‘Pearl’ and ‘X’ more fun to watch.
While the sequel ‘X’, which sees an elderly Pearl, had many ‘killing’ scenes and was inspired by cult slashers like ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, ‘Pearl’ is less of a slasher and more of a psychological horror.
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A recurring issue with ‘X’ is present here as well, and that is pacing. Both films are rather slow and steady for the sake of the actors whose performances are rendered more immersive and magnetic due to the slow pace. A fast pace would not have the same effect. Some viewers might, therefore, find it frustrating to watch, in case they were expecting a more cinematic melodrama bloodbath full of screams, howling, destruction, and a bonfire. The beauty in enjoying this movie is, once again, by surrendering yourself to the safe hands of Ti West and Mia Goth.
Once you do so, the film is ever so sweet and rewarding, if terrifying and chilling to the bone. It’s also unexpectedly realistic and feels incredibly modern due to its themes of abject poverty. This movie will break your heart.
The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.
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