In the prequel to Ty West’s movie X, Pearl (played by Mia Goth) lives a seemingly simple life. She spends every day doing chores around her 1918 texas farm and tending to her disabled father. Only when no one is around can she do what she truly loves, which is to dance and gruesomely murder animals. Pearl wants to be a star like the dancers she sees in the movies but is held back by her wary mother, who recognizes Pearl’s concerning abnormality. Frustrated, Pearl must eliminate any obstacles that lay in her way of becoming famous.
Pearl has a pretty simple plot, which becomes somewhat predictable to anyone who has seen X. The simplicity isn’t necessarily negative however and works well with the vintage setting of the film. The movie takes place in 1918 at the height of the Spanish Flu epidemic, as well as at the end of World War 1. Pearl’s husband has been away fighting in the war, which angers Pearl as he was supposed to take her away to Europe so they could start a family. This adds to Pearl’s intense desire to escape the dull life she lives. We are brought along Pearl’s journey as she prepares for a dance competition, which she was told about by her husband’s sister. It seems as if everything and everyone in Pearl’s life is getting in her way of success, which is why we see her resort to murder. At first, it’s just animals but soon spirals out of control, mirroring Pearl’s mental state.
One aspect of this film that I immediately fell in love with was the color and saturation. Pearl is extremely bright and vibrant. The colors just seem to pop whether it’s the blood-red barn or the bright blue sky. Most of Pearl’s psychotic outbursts take place in broad daylight, which would normally eliminate fear in the audience, however, the isolated setting of the farm leaves the viewer wondering whether a character will make off of the farm alive or not. The liveliness of the colors present helps to keep Pearl feeling modern, while on the other hand, the cinematography feels like an homage to vintage films.
The shots in Pearl are usually quite simple, but with this simplicity comes amazing attention to detail that adds so much life to the world Ty West has created. For example, the cooked pig that Pearl’s mother refuses to eat is left outside toward the beginning of the movie. We see the pig later in the movie covered in maggots, half rotted with its skull exposed. A caged bird can be seen hanging in the background of Pearl’s dad’s room, implying that her dad’s mental state is fully intact despite his paralyzed state, which was due to the Spanish Flu. The subtle facial expressions he is able to make provide just enough proof that his mind is still active. These small additions made Pearl very enjoyable for me, and I hope that the recently announced third movie in the trilogy will include details like these.
Mia Goth starred in X as the main character Maxine, as well as the 80-year-old psychotic murderer Pearl. She plays the role of a young Pearl in this prequel and does so wonderfully. Pearl as a character is very naive and is lost in the fantasy of becoming famous when everyone else around her can tell that something is wrong with her. Pearl’s dream of becoming a dancing movie star seems so real due to the energy Mia Goth puts into her role. The mental breakdowns Pearl experiences throughout the movie are when you really see Mia Goth shine. Towards the end of the film, Mia Goth performs a disturbing 7-minute uncut monologue where we see Pearl progressively become more and more distressed, eventually giving in to her murderous instincts. In my opinion, this moment is the best example in this movie of Mia Goth’s capabilities as an actress. Other performances, including both of Pearl’s parents, her temporary love interest, and her sister-in-law are very wonderful and perfectly counter Pearl’s insanity.
Although Pearl was only released 6 months after X, Ty West was able to craft a simple yet effective origin story for one of the most disturbing characters brought to the screen in the past year. Everything including the plot, acting, cinematography, and setting work wonderfully with each other. I would recommend Pearl to anyone who has seen X, as well as anyone who is a fan of horror movies in general.