Per Matt
Ti West is an indie filmmaker who should already be on everybody’s radar. Within a 20-year span of time, he entered the film industry by releasing short films, which led to lower-budgeted releases, genre television and eventually working with some of the heavyweights of the industry. I was already a fan of some of his past projects (Wayward Pines, The Passage, Them), but I truly took notice of the multi-hyphenate once he partnered with A24 Films (From Porno to Pulp: A24’s X Enjoys Pleasure Before Pain).

I absolutely loved the rollercoaster ride that is known as X, so I had already mentally stepped into the waiting line for the movie’s prequel, Pearl, once it was announced. And let me tell you, West returns to build a world that defines his love of cinema, while telling a tragic origin story for the titular character.

Mia Goth returns as the star-struck character who dreams of becoming a famous dancer, if only she wasn’t stuck at her family’s farm, which she works while caring for her frail father. During the final days of WWI, another pandemic is in full effect, and money is tight, especially when you have an overbearing mother calling the shots.

After sneaking out to the local movie theater, Pearl finally formulates a plan with the Projectionist. The young lady will audition for a touring dance troupe and finally escape the small-town hell that she’s been trapped within. And when her escape plan goes awry, the gory details get into the way.

“You can’t keep your true self hidden, forever…”

As a film, Pearl brings out abandonment, insecurity, jealousy, regrets and burdens to our main character, which the audience can easily relate to. All she ever wants is to be loved, which seems to be an impossible scenario, considering the surrounding personalities in her life. That’s not a good-enough excuse for the mild-mannered maiden to turn homicidal, but it’s one that could easily turn her life upside down… and it does.

While Pearl was denied for not having the “X” factor, Goth’s acting is great. She shows a side that’s willing to give her all for the camera, which was only hinted at in the first film. The actress’ performance is the highlight here. The downside of the movie was the monologue that wrapped it all up. For way too long — I wish I would have timed it — Pearl opened up about her feelings and issues with being a bad person to her sister-in-law. Even though I’d previously praised West’s work, here he made a huge mistake by allowing the character to blabber on about herself instead of allowing her to show the audience how she truly feels.

“The whole world is going to know my name!!!”

It’s obvious Ti West is a cinema aficionado, but Pearl really needed a tighter script with better direction. Torture porn kinda takes the slow-moving story into a different direction, which then stops with the long lecture/finale. That being said, I’m looking forward to the X sequel titled MaXXXine, which is already in development.

With each entry into the X franchise, West tackles different horror subgenres. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was a huge influence for the psycho-biddy story of X and Pearl’s homage to The Wizard of Oz is self-described by the filmmaker as a “demented Disney movie.” If that’s not enough of an endorsement to watch this film, then maybe the final scene will be, which features Mia holding a very big, very fake smile throughout a large portion of the end credits in one take, evoking the creepy feelings of Smile that I truly adored. There’s so much pain on display!

“You are not well, Pearl!”