PEARL | ©2022 A24

PEARL | ©2022 A24

Rating: R
Stars: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro, Alistair Sewell
Writers: Ti West & Mia Goth, based on characters created by Ti West
Director: Ti West
Distributor: A24
Release Date: September 16, 2022

We’re in 1918 Texas. Pearl (Mia Goth) is a young woman a certain amount of accurate self-awareness. She suspects there’s something wrong with her, and not just because her fiercely disapproving mother (Tandi Wright) keeps telling her so. Is Pearl’s problem that she isn’t as perfect as the silent film performers she idolizes? Is it that she’s not content with her lot in life? Or maybe it’s that she tends to go into homicidal rages? Who can say?

PEARL will perhaps play differently, depending on whether or not viewers have already met the character in this year’s earlier release X. Both films are directed by Ti West, who also wrote X; he and star Goth wrote PEARL together.

There’s no denying anything about Goth’s performance here, which is fearless, revealing, and harrowing. Just watching what she does here – there are several very long takes where the camera never looks away – is enough to make mere mortals sink back in awe and empathetic exhaustion. In PEARL, our title protagonist is married. However, her equally young husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) is overseas, fighting in the Great War.

For reasons we’ll learn during the course of the film, Pearl is living with her parents on their isolated farm. Pearl’s father (Matthew Sunderland) has been rendered incapable of speech or movement. He is in a wheelchair and needs constant tending. Pearl actually loves her father, but resents having to feed and clean him. Even more, she resents her mother’s strictness. A top hat Pearl has found, Mother declares, cannot be brought into the house. What if it has germs? (1918 was also the year of the great flu pandemic.) Pearl strikes up a relationship with the town movie theater’s flirtatious projectionist (David Corenswet), who encourages her dreams of showbiz and travel. Pearl’s sister-in-law Misty (Emma Jenkins-Purro) is friendly and sympathetic. The tragedy here is that Pearl truly wants these relationships to work. She does want to be loved. But she’s incapable of empathy.

Some horror fans have been asking for a female equivalent of Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. PEARL assuredly is not that. This take by West and Goth is far too psychologically acute to be simply a slasher. The closest parallel might be what if Norman Bates didn’t dissociate, but instead wondered why he was inclined to act as he does when he knows this isn’t what most people do. It’s a bold notion, and fleshed out well.

PEARL also lives up to its horror bona fides. It’s much less of a slow burn than X, with Pearl displaying her violent tendencies sooner rather than later, in a consistently bloody manner. But it’s primarily an uncommon character study, constructed with internal logic and conviction. Again, Goth’s performance is outstanding, not just within PEARL, but among all screen performances given this year, whether horror or mainstream. She is adroitly supported by the skilled supporting cast.

Viewers of X will know the fate of two of the characters. PEARL definitively removes what previously could be perceived as bittersweet aspects of the other film; based on PEARL, perhaps that reading of X was never intended in the first place. PEARL shares X’s tendency to skew toward dark comedy when drama is a possibility. This isn’t a flaw, per se, but showing the audience that it knows that we know where it’s going seems like a punch is being pulled.

People who’ve seen X will probably leave PEARL with more questions than those who haven’t, especially as to exactly what happens right after that unusual, uncomfortable final shot. The next film in the X series, previewed in PEARL’s post-credits sequence, is set to be MAXXXINE, set in 1985. However, should West and Goth want to revisit Pearl, they’ve got plenty of story room to show her adventures between 1918 and 1979.

With PEARL, they more than earn viewer trust that whatever they devise will be worth watching.

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Article: Movie Review: PEARL

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