“Pearl” has another title of “Pearl: An X-traordinary Origin Story”. Why? Because it has a direct tie-in to a previous movie called “X”. This was from the same Writer and Director, with the same leading Star. So, with the success of “X”, in getting a unique take on the horror-slash-slasher movie — what better way forward than to go way back into the past!
The movie “X” was set during 1979 in a backwoods of Texas. That is where a murderous force attacks and kills many young people who rented a cabin in the woods (so to speak). This was on a farm owned by two very elderly seniors who make the Bates Motel seem like a luxury resort.
The lone survivor of the massacre is Maxine (played by Mia Goth). The octogenarian killer is named Pearl (played by Mia Goth — with lots and lots of old-age make up). Would that be considered a spoiler?
But now it is time to take a quick rewind to the days to Technicolor, World Wars, and Global Pandemics. It is now 1918, and the same farm in the same backwoods area of Texas is back in focus. It is a lovely, saturated color focus, by the way.
The skies are bright and blue, and the grass is a deep, deep green. And the blood runs a crimson red — wait — what? Oh yeah, meet the much younger Pearl (again – played by Mia Goth) Her husband is off to Europe to serve in the World War. There were no numbers after that one, yet…
Pearl is stuck on this farm (the same one which in sixty years becomes the focal point in the movie “X”). But she is miserable. Her husband is gone, and she must stay with her parents. Her mother is Ruth (played by Tandi Wright), who is strict and harsh. German by birth, she fears the wrath of the townsfolk.
Since the World War started against the Germans – nobody in town is very fond of Ruth’s German accent and stern manner. Pearl’s invalid Father (played by Matthew Sunderland) came down with the Spanish Flu. He is now unable to do anything on his own – even speak.
Pearl can sometimes go out into town to run errands. But her secret dream is become a famous dancer and the star of the movies. She uses her Father’s medicine money to pay for a picture show. She meets The Projectionist (played by David Corenswet), who works/lives at the movie house. Maybe you can guess his job? Anyway, he befriends Pearl and supports her ideas and dreams. Not like her cruel mother Ruth, who belittles Pearl and treats her badly.
Her husband is away, and the farm is barely making it. But Pearl’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law stop by the farmhouse. Her sister-in-law is a cute and bubbly blond named Mitzy (played by Emma Jenkins-Purro). She lets Pearl know that the local church is having a talent search for dancers. Both Pearl and Mitzy promise to each other that they will go. This can be Pearl’s dream come true; it can open a door for a way out of this place.
The mother-in-law left a fully cooked pig on the porch. Ruth is way too stubborn and does not want any ‘charity’ from well-off relatives. Ruth gets into an ugly argument with Pearl. Everything spins out of control. She runs off to the movie house to see The Projectionist. She stays the night as he tells tales of Bohemian living in Europe. The Projectionist threads his reel into Pearl’s sprocket — as it were…
Pearl and The Projectionist go back her family farm. But there is not as much left of her family these days. The Projectionist wants to hit the road and get back to back to Europe. Anywhere that is as far away from Pearl would do, actually. However, Pearl sticks a ‘fork’ into that idea. Pearl still has the Talent Search to attend, so she can win it all and get out of this place. She meets Mitzy there, and Pearl is able to perform.
Pearl is beginning to lose her connection to reality. Her life is less like “The Wizard of Oz” and it is turning more into “The Bad Seed”. Pearl sees Ruth, her Father, and The Projectionist as problems. They are stumbling blocks to Pearl’s desire to leave the farm and become a star. Any stumbling block needs to be eliminated.
She and Mitzy have a long conversation. Pearl explains everything that she has done, and every sordid detail of every bad deed. Mitzy says she needs to go, and hit the road and get back to back to own house. Anywhere that is as far away from Pearl would do, actually. Pearl sees Mitzy has become a stumbling block, too. I wonder what might happen next.
“Pearl” is an “X” follow-up, but at the same time it is prequel. That is somewhat difficult to pull off in the first place. But as a ‘horror’ movie, there is an extra burden. It should evoke most of the same scares as in the original. But that does not happen here. Mia Goth does an excellent job, but the movie is much like Pearl. It wants to get off that farm, but it goes around and around and does not go much of anywhere.
The slow psychological failings of Pearl make her a sociopath. She is self-centered and uncomfortable to be around. Her mother Ruth is unpleasant, cruel and mean. The acting of Mia Goth and Tandi Wright is rally good – but is not fun to watch. Emma Jenkins-Purro (as the ill-fated Mitzy) does bring a fresh view into the movie. The color and lighting are marvelous, as is the swelling score (by Tyler Bates and Tim Williams).
“Pearl” is a mixed bag in the area of Horror. Mostly, it is too slow and talky. Some people — if they find this Pearl in an oyster — they might choose to keep the oyster.
Directed by: Ti West
Written by: Ti West, Mia Goth
Based on Characters created by: Ti West
Starring: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro
Cinematography: Eliot Rockett
Edited by: Ti West
Music by: Tyler Bates, Tim Williams
Distributed by: A24
Release date: September 16, 2022
Length: 102 minutes
MPAA rating: R for some strong violence, gore, strong sexual content and graphic nudity.