Redefines the genre showing that horror can happen in unlikely bright places. Mia Goth’s well deserved starring role.
Luckily, after seeing PEARL in a theater, I watched writer-director Ti West’s previous film X on DVD. It was the perfect way to see the two films, since PEARL actually is the prequel to X in the planned trilogy. Being PEARL has a theatrical release and is pretty damn great, the third film in the trilogy, MAXXXINE, is in pre-production again starring Mia Goth.
PEARL gives Mia Goth a well-deserved starring vehicle. Her time has come. Both films were shot back-to-back at the same location. Goth is the co-writer with West on this more ambitious PEARL.
Yet X has a lot doing for it. Unlike every “weekend at an empty cabin in the woods,” X is a down and dirty sex horror film.
PEARL is a highly accomplished film and easily joins the horror sub-genre that is far more psychological than a hacksaw-wielding crazy man without a reason. Pearl has her reasons for being the subject of a horror movie.
The film X, released six months before PEARL takes place over sixty years after PEARL.
PEARL takes place in 1918 and Pearl is working on the family’s dairy farm. Her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) is fighting in WWI in Europe. Isolated on the farm and under the control of her severe mother (Tandi Wright), she dreams of escaping by becoming a dancer in the movies. The Spanish flu has caused fear among the townspeople and Pearl’s immigrant German-born mother is wary of anti-German sentiment in the country. Pearl’s home life is miserable. Her father (Matthew Sutherland) cannot talk or do anything due to a stroke. He has to be fed, bathed and cannot be left alone. Her mother’s cruel discipline allows absolutely no freedom for Pearl. She has only one outlet: She can bike to town but her time is checked and she must account for the money she has spent. Going to a movie is forbidden.
Pearl’s only release is to go to the movies. She meets the lone movie theatre’s projectionist (David Corenswet). The seduction starts slowly – the projectionist is a pro. He shows her secret “stag” films. He encourages Pearl to audition for a traveling dance troupe that will be held soon. He tells her it is an excellent way to break into movies. This is Pearl’s “freedom run” plan and defying her responsibility to the farm and her father’s needs, she begins practicing her dance routine.
The entire town’s young women are all desperate to join the dance troupe. Pearl’s sister-in-law, Mitzy (Emma Jenkins-Purro) comes to visit and suggests that Pearl talk to her as if she was Howard. Pearl’s remarks descend into a stream of consciousness resentment filled horror story. Mitzy decides it is best to leave. The women of the town assemble to audition. Pearl and Mitzy are waiting their turn. The rejected women come out crying. Pearl asks Mitzy if she could go before her. Mitzy agrees knowing how important this is to Pearl. Pearl is desperate to impress the judges with her talent. Her audition does not go well and she becomes violently upset. She demands to be chosen. Asked why, the judges offhandedly say she does not have the blonde, wholesome look they want.
It just so happens that Mitzy has that perfect look.
Hysterical, Pearl returns to the projectionist but he dismisses her as a casual interlude. These events overwhelm Pearl and she steps outside herself. Immediately after Pearl expresses her frustration and rage, Howard comes home.
Ti West has an original aesthetic on horror films. Who lives alone and comes home to an empty house and does not put a light on? Victims do very stupid things in horror movies. Even if they are being stalked and know it, they leave a window open. I always say: “They are so stupid, they deserve whatever they get.”
PEARL has a beautiful techno color look. PEARL does not begin as a typical horror film. It’s got the bright colors of a musical. It has many set pieces that evoke tension because you know the rules of horror, except West is not following the hallowed format. With PEARL, Goth as co-writer steps out of her perceived public persona and becomes the architect of her career. Goth delivers a stunning psychological portrait of Pearl. She understands the character’s downward – perhaps justified – spiral.
X takes place in 1979 and “producer” Wayne (Martin Henderson) has rented an isolated, vacant farmhouse. He doesn’t tell the old owner, Howard (Stephen Ure), who greets Wayne’s group brandishing a shotgun, how he intends to use the empty house. Wayne believes the VHS explosion has created a market for low-budget porn. He has assembled his team: His star is stripper Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), who knows her way around a porn set, her boyfriend Jackson (Kid Cudi credited as Scott Mescudi), Wayne’s girlfriend Maxine (Mia Goth), RJ (Owen Campbell), an aspiring director and Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), RJ’s girlfriend and silent assistant.
It doesn’t take long for Howard’s very old, mentally-disabled, sex-starved wife, Pearl, to show up. We know she is mentally-disabled because she wanders around in a flimsy, tattered slip and no slippers.
Howard’s wife meets Maxine and invites her to have a glass of lemonade. The old lady has a condition common to Alzheimer patients – a sexual compulsion (nursing care facilities are very used to this).
Unlike traditional horror films, X has a lot of nudity and sex. Each actor is given a defining role and the social dynamics of the shoot heightens the tension. Lorraine decides she wants to participate and it causes chaos within the group. And unlike the SCREAM motif where every male has been raised by helicopter parents, Jackson has a military background and being a porn star’s boyfriend indicates he can handle most situations - though crazy, violent old farmers might not be in his wheelhouse.
After this trilogy, I expect Ti West will be on his way to another universe and maybe we will see a superhero bare-ass visiting a bordello.
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