Pearl Review: West crafts an eXtraordinary follow-up and prequel to X
Writer/director Ti West showed himself to be a modern horror master with an unforgettably superb 70s-inspired slasher earlier this year with X and delivered plenty of surprises with the biggest one of all being that a prequel, Pearl, had been filmed in secret and was nearing release. Now, Pearl has arrived and further cements West as a master of the genre.
Where X saw a film crew trying to make an adult movie become the targets of a maniacal married couple, Pearl takes a closer look at the origins of Pearl (Mia Goth), one of X’s main killers, as she yearns to leave her family’s simpler farm life for a spot in the limelight. Although both are set in the same world, they’re distinctively different time settings offer totally different horror experiences. While X’s late-70s Texas setting felt like a fitting homage to slashers of the time like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Pearl is more of a fantasy horror experience that evokes vibes of classic early era fantasy films like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music.
Compared to X, Pearl is a vibrant viewing experience just bursting with color around every turn and West excellently pays homage to another great era of film. Pearl is more directly a love letter to early film with the font of the credits, music, sound design, and other technical elements evoking the style of that era well. Even the moments of Pearl watching film reels of dancing and some of the more musical/fantasy elements of Pearl’s story feel like big homages to early fantasy films, with a horror twist. West even brings in historical elements of the time, including the fears from WWI and the Spanish Flu epidemic, that add to the film’s unique brand of horror and realistic terrors that influence Pearl’s desires to escape.
Although Pearl is bright, colorful, and full of total glee at times, it’s full of horrifying moments and bloody kills as well. It may not provide a fast-growing, high body count like X, but that’s because Pearl is less of a slasher and more of a character-driven psychological horror story. Part of what makes Pearl so horrifying as a character is this slow descent into madness that sees her become more and more unhinged and bloodthirsty as her desires for the spotlight start to slip from her hands and are mocked by doubt. With the film being a little more driven by this personal story, the kills leave a larger impact because of how personally tied they are to Pearl’s arc. Not to mention, West continues to deliver gory and, at times, brutal kills and horror sequences that make you twist and turn in your seat in fear.
Pearl can definitely offer the same level of bloodshed and scares as X, but more importantly, it also is able to hit the same story and thematic marks by touching on similar themes in a more personal manner. By delving into the origins of Pearl, the film offers an in-depth understanding as to why she’s so obsessed with stardom and sex to the point where she’s ready to kill those that either have what she doesn’t or stand in her way of gaining it. The slow build-up of Pearl’s anger and rage make for a constantly tense experience where you’re unsure when she’s exactly going to snap, and it’s really intriguing to watch Pearl’s personal story unfold mainly because of Goth’s amazing performance.
Goth is just acting on another level here as Pearl totally commanding the screen with a captivating performance that leaves you constantly intrigued and terrified. Personally, it’s an Oscar-worthy performance that shows Goth as a true rising talent and there are two scenes in particular involving a great monologue from Pearl talking about her issues and desires as well as one of the creepiest end credits sequences I’ve ever seen that are just immaculate. The themes are still just as relatable and gutting as they were in X and elevate this great arc that enhances X’s story even more.
Pearl isn’t just a great follow-up to X that evolves the themes and horror of its predecessor by delivering a visually unique and disturbing personal horror story, it’s also one of the best horror prequels of all-time. West is just so calculated and creative in his vision for this expansive horror story that sees Goth just become a captivating star that it’s now undeniable that he’s truly one of the best horror directors currently working. Also, with a third film, MaXXXine, in development, who knows what West and Goth are going to shock us with next.