Review by Adam Donato
A24 released a horror film earlier this year titled X. During the production, they were forced to quarantine due to the pandemic. With this time, they conceived a prequel script around the poster character for the movie X. Since small horror movies are so easy and quick to produce, Pearl graces the big screen about a half year after X was released. Ti West is back to direct with Mia Goth starring as the elderly woman from the original. Set back in 1918, Pearl is stuck on her family farm and longs for stardom. Prequels are usually associated with big franchises like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Does this horror story have what it takes to carry momentum from the first movie?
The best idea hatched in the making of this movie was to let Mia Goth spread her wings. Not only does this movie provide her for a more meaty performance, but this time around she’s credited as a writer and executive producer. She’s moving up in this world and the movie is all the better for it. Her performance is one of the best female leads in a genre film this year. Here, we really get to get inside the mind of the villain from the first movie and see what motivated her to go the lengths she goes to in the first one. Goth is so vulnerable in this movie, spit and all. Especially since the first movie is so raunchy, it’s nice to see them not lean into her sex appeal. That aspect of the character is present, but this role was not designed to build up a new sex icon. There’s many moments in this movie where she is gross or creepy. Goth puts it all out there and that’s where this movie shines above the first one.
There’s much less of an emphasis on the slasher genre here. Don’t get it twisted, there’s still plenty of kills to go around, but that’s not the point of this one as opposed to X, which is more of a straight-up slasher. This story is more of a character piece. Her mental stability (or lack thereof) and striving to accomplish her dreams is what drives this picture. A standout moment is a monologue that lasts a good five minutes where Goth lets it all out. The kills are satisfying as well. Just like the first movie, there’s a specific kill that they keep teasing and it’s so over the top that it works. This world is so stylized with the attire and the saturation of the colors, especially in contrast with the first movie. This is probably done to show the contrast in world view of Pearl from this movie to X. There’s a lot of good stuff in here. In a year that has been so bountiful in horror hits, Pearl deserves to be recognized.
September is a riskier time of year for movies, where every weekend a few movies are thrown at the wall to see what sticks. Pearl stands above the field in this regard. Hopefully word of mouth and the announcement of a third movie in the series are enough to allow this horror flick to go toe to toe with the likes of last week’s hit, Barbarian. A ton of credit to Ti West for such an ambitious attempt at a horror trilogy, but in regards to this prequel installment, Pearl owes it all to Mia Goth. Jenna Ortega may have gotten all the roses for the first movie, but Goth’s performance here sets her apart. Make sure to check out X and Pearl this Halloween season as there is plenty of horror to go around.
Pearl is now playing in theaters.