Shot in-secret alongside Ti West’s horror film X from earlier this year, Pearl serves as a prequel to X – whereas X is undeniably an homage and love letter to films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and exploitation in its many forms, Pearl is much more of a slow-burn that digs into the golden age of Hollywood. What makes Pearl even more unique is that while it pays homage to this era to an extent, it’s completely through the view of the titular character Pearl – who is simply from the outside looking in, desperate to claw here way inside the industry and find the love and admiration she desires yet cannot find in her small town. While in X they were simply making a porno with a cast and crew committed to elevating it to a form of art, Pearl is more interested in how cruel and soul-crushing it can be to try to break into the entertainment industry.
Pearl lives and dies on the shoulders of star Mia Goth – who reprises her role as Pearl from X again, but as her younger self. While Ti West’s direction and continual empathetic lens to this character adds a lot to why this new-found franchise is so unique and gripping, it’s undeniable that Pearl especially works because of Goth’s performance. Whereas X was a fully-rounded, old-fashioned slasher film with a true ensemble cast at its core, so much of Pearl relies on Mia Goth… in fact, I don’t think there’s a single frame of the film that she isn’t in. Mia Goth’s dual performance in X was simply fantastic, and articulated the themes of desire and age perfectly. But in Pearl? She’s simply on another-level. She has such an insanely magnetic screen-presence that is utterly captivating from the moment the film ends to the very final frame. It feels like such a rare talent to find nowadays, and luckily Ti West has her fully on-board for such dark, wacky material where she can really shine.
There’s a nearly three-to-five minute monologue in the film delivered by Pearl that I won’t spoil the context of, but once I realized that it wasn’t cutting and it was all one-shot, and the more that it played out.. I was truly floored by what I was watching. And at it’s core, this is the epitome of what Pearl does best – delivering an empathetic yet sadistic spin-off/prequel for the woman we only knew from the outside looking in during X. While X certainly did a great job at making us question our feelings towards Pearl as a character and making her sympathetic to an extent, Ti West does a fantastic job at challenging the audience even further here in explaining why she is the way she is to a satisfying degree but also not completely excusing her actions. She’s a murderer, plain and simple, but it’s fascinating to see this toxicity and mindset grow in such an equally toxic upbringing where her only escape was the movies – and even they turned her away.
There are certainly issues to be found with Pearl, as it’s not quite as tightly constructed or even consistently narratively interesting as X is – but it serves as a fascinating companion piece that adds a lot to the original film in ways that I thought were largely satisfying, mostly due to the immaculate performance from Mia Goth. And with the third film Maxxxine being announced over the last few days, I’m deeply rooting for Ti West to hit it out of the park and deliver a truly unique horror trilogy – because so far, he’s 2/2 in my book.