‘Pearl’ Film Review

Pearl may be the most unique villain origin story ever put to screen. We only got to know the character of Pearl as the creepy old lady from X, which was released earlier this year. She doesn’t have the same iconic status as the Joker, or a Disney villain, yet her backstory serves as an intense, if not, compelling feature. Written by director Ti West and star Mia Goth (who both collaborated on X) during the pandemic, Pearl was given the green light and shot in secret, back-to-back, with X; an unusual move for sure, but a welcome one at that. While X had the grainy feel of a 70s horror movie in the vein of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Pearl was made with the technicolor CinemaScope style of a 50s or 60s movie in mind. Beneath Eliot Rockett’s dreamy cinematography lies an unsettling nature that could only come from a slasher film. The character of Pearl (Once again played by Goth) is a young woman with hopes and dreams, yet hiding within the farm getup, innocent Southern drawl, and schoolgirl smile is a sense that something is not right. All we can do is just wait for a firecracker to go off.

It is clear from the start that Pearl is a serial killer in the making, as she exhibits psychopathic tendencies that only get more vicious later on; first shown when she stabs a wandering duck in the barn, which she ends up feeding to an alligator, which she names Theda. This is before the title finally shows up, freeze-frame and all. Yet there could be more to Pearl than just a manic young woman. We see her as she deals with her domineering German-immigrant mother, Ruth (Tandi Wright) while caring for her ailing, invalid father (Matthew Sunderland), and waiting for her husband to return from the war. All Pearl wants to do is to escape the life she is stuck living and make it big in the movies, as dreams of stardom fill her head. It seems her only audience are the animals she tends to. Her only escape is going to town to catch the latest picture (in a pandemic of its own time, no less), as she finds herself immersed in the glitz and glamour of the dancing ladies on the screen, wishing she could be one herself. She even catches the eye of a projectionist (David Corenswet), who swears that she is destined for the screen.

As we sit through Pearl’s backstory, we are treated to intense conversations, grotesque imagery, and a few kills here and there to solidify her place as a serial killer. Along with all the intensity on display, there is a blend of tragedy to mix with the madness. Goth is amazing as Pearl as she goes through a range of different feelings from the naivete of wishing for that better life to the crazed ravings of a lunatic, to the cries of somebody that wants to be loved and seen as someone more. Though nothing is quite as captivating as a scene where Pearl tells her sister-in-law, Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Purro) her wrongdoings, insecurities, and trials in a lengthy monologue that could be described as the best nine-minutes in film. Some would be compelled to check their watches, but I felt mesmerized listening to Goth express herself, and I could feel the tears flowing with hers. I would even say that this is the best monologue since Charlie Chaplin took the podium in The Great Dictator. Give her an Oscar nod for that scene alone!

Though, through its timely historical relevance and bits of dark humor, Pearl is the type of movie that needs not be missed. It feels like a product of a Golden Age, yet is destined for its own type of stardom. X may have been underwhelming, but Pearl is a bright spot in what could be a trilogy, judging by news of a third film.

GRADE: A-

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