After X blew the doors off the horror community in early 2022, Mia Goth had become a critical darling. Her dual roles in the film were impressive by any metric. Ti West also found himself back in the spotlight. The director, know for slow contemplative horror, directed television instead of films for six years. When it was revealed that West and Goth already teamed up for a prequel to X, the internet began to buzz. Now, a mere six months after X released in theaters, Pearl continues to expand the story.
Set in 1918 near the end of World War I, Pearl (Goth) finds herself stuck on the farm. A bride whose husband went off to war, Pearl becomes chained to her farmhouse. Her German mother (Tandi Wright) pushes Pearl to focus on caring for her invalid father (Mathew Sunderland). When she meets a projectionist (David Corenswet) Pearl dreams of a life beyond the farm. With a dance audition coming up, Pearl will do whatever it takes to get out.
The Pearl and X double feature will not flow as easily as some may believe. While Pearl certainly features horror, it primarily exists as a character study and homage to post-depression cinema. Porn and sexuality still percolate through the film. However, Pearl channels The Wizard of Oz and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane as it’s influences.
Goth approaches the more internal role with grace. There’s a twitchiness that blends well with her subtle actions. She plays the role with a duality that should not work, but allows her navigate every situation. Goth’s Pearl is both repressed and explorative. She believes in grandiose actions, but shies away from the spotlight. Sometimes when she cracks, all of her anger and frustration pours out of her. Other times, she lays bricks to set up her wall of emotion. Goth may have played two separate characters in X, but in Pearl she plays a far more complex character suffering from a lack of emotional stability.
Goth transcends her great performance in X after being struck a professional blow. Up to that point in the film, her psychopathy and lack of remorse lead to upsetting sequences. Yet the unhinged creature we see in the back half of the film is somehow more horrifying. The raw emotion she emits puts her performance among the very best of 2022. It’s truly an outstanding showcase of talent.
Beyond Goth’s brilliance, West paints the world of Pearl in colorful splashes. The colors of every item screams through the screen. The bright red of an apple and pig becomes a recurring nightmare. The dresses worn by the women shimmer. A dance sequence places Pearl on the same vein of the Busby Berkeley musical. West infuses the film with his influences. Victor Fleming’s production design features heavily throughout the story, while John Water’s camp aesthetic lurks.
While Pearl might overstay its welcome, it continues to shine behind Mia Goth’s incredible performance. West and Goth will continue to build their collaboration in the future. They’ve become horror’s latest great pairing, following in the footsteps of Craven and Campbell. Expect another jarring entry in the quickly built franchise. If Pearl is any indication, it will be darker and more grotesque than the last two entries.