In March, I left Ti West’s X feeling like I’d seen a very well done horror movie. It was a full-fledged genre throwback that found exciting, twisted and intriguingly executed. X ends with a trailer for his already-filmed prequel, following the backstory of the villain in X, Pearl. We had no idea when it was coming, but it reminded me of one of the fake trailers in the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse film – I was not convinced this was a real movie. But, what do you know? I was wrong. Pearl sure is a movie. I left the theater today feeling a different way altogether. Feeling like I’d just witnessed something truly singular. I’d just seen a nutty, gonzo, frightening and hilarious instant genre classic, also led by the indomitable force that is Mia Goth.
Pearl is what it would look like if The Wizard of Oz filmmakers made a slasher movie. It’s full of the Technicolor wonder, the big, sweeping strings and horns score, the showy and shamelessly melodramatic performances, and yet it’s got a lot of bite and bloodshed and it’s somehow always grounded in a state of emotional realism. It’s one hateful little mean-spirited creation and I loved every moment of it.
Pearl (Mia Goth) lives in a farm house in the middle of nowhere. The year is 1918, and we are in the middle of WWI. Pearl’s husband is away fighting in the war. In the meantime, she lives with her German immigrant parents – her domineering and overbearing mother (Tandi Wright) and her father, who is paralyzed and requires constant care. Pearl is obsessed with the people she sees in the pictures, when she sneaks away to the town cinema, and longs to become a chorus girl and live a more exciting life.
Mia Goth is a trailblazing star. She has a thing where she’s acting through the end credits here like Timothée Chalamet does in Call Me By Your Name. But before that she has a monologue at a dinner table that is totally Oscar worthy, full stop. She gives the character of Pearl such a rich backstory and details her journey so richly. She co-wrote this one with Ti West, and it’s really great that she’s able to have a say in what happens to this character. Rest assured, this is not a likable character. But you get why Pearl became the person we saw in X in fascinating and surprising ways. I can’t wait to do a double feature of both movies.
I’d barely call Pearl a horror film. It’s kind of like a dark comedy, but also it isn’t. It’s deeper than that, it’s always taking itself seriously enough to a degree – I wouldn’t say this is satirical or parodic, but everyone here is having so much fun playing around with genre and audience expectations, it makes it a very fun experience, ultimately. And yet Pearl contrasts everything we saw in X brilliantly. I can’t believe I saw two films in September that will almost undoubtedly be on my best of the year list. Pearl is a gorgeous, technicolor wonder crossed with something undeniably ruthless and terrifying. Mia Goth is a revolution and I can’t wait to see what she and director Ti West have planned for us next.