By: Max Baker, Contributor
Pearl, directed by Ti West, is a prequel to his hit summer horror release X. Pearl was released in theaters this past week and stars Mia Goth as the headlining Pearl, a wannabe dancer who’s stuck tending to the farm that her and her German immigrant parents live on. Set in 1918 Louisiana, about sixty years before X, Pearl follows Pearl’s struggle to become the star she thinks she is while trying to manage the farm at home, tend to her paralyzed father, and keep her marriage to her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell), who’s overseas serving in the war, intact. Her dreams start to become a reality when she hears of an audition at the local church through her sister-in-law, Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Purro), for a troupe of bright, young, All-American girls to brighten the days of people all across Louisiana amidst a world war and the Spanish Flu.
Pearl, while it can be watched independently of X, carries a lot of parallels between the two main characters. In addition to its similar production and cast, the similarities between both Pearl and Maxine, the main character of X, cannot be ignored. They both share a need to be loved, to be wanted by all. Pearl shows this with her yearn to be on the silver screen as a dancer, which eventually leads to a psychotic break hinted at in the trailers.
Mia Goth’s performance in Pearl is nothing less than incredible. Between the blood curdling screams and Pearl’s palpable, maddening need to be loved and appreciated, her dedication to this character and her intensity is shown throughout the entire film. The score ties into the time period and Pearl’s own mindset beautifully, building these antique show tunes combined with polarizing and sharp, almost jagged orchestrals that show Pearl’s inner tension growing as she gets closer and closer to her breaking point.
However, as strong as a movie this is when viewed with X in mind, an average viewer going to see Pearl in theaters on its own can leave a lot of questions unanswered. There’s no clear motive for her other than her desire to be wanted. Even as a fan of X, I cannot say I was entirely happy with this origin story. With Maxine’s origin story being hinted at in X to be heavy with religious and household trauma, I was expecting something more than a burning desire. I was expecting more blood and violence, more questions answered, and more “X-factor” than X was willing to give us.
Overall, the positives heavily outweigh the negatives for Pearl, which gives it a solid 8/10 review. The atmosphere of need and desire to be appreciated by as many people as possible struck heavily with viewers in a highly digital age where anyone can show off their own “x-factor”. The swelling music, the performance by Goth, the romanticism of a woman’s anger as her shell of normality cracks, all serve to form the film that is Pearl, a beautiful character study of a woman who’s had enough.