Mia Goth in Pearl and why it needs to break the Oscars Horror curse

EJ Moreno dives into Pearl’s unlikely journey to the Academy Awards…

“It has to be me.”

While sitting in on her big audition, Pearl repeats, “It has to be me.” We are seeing a young woman’s drive and hunger for fame push her to do anything to achieve it. While our sweet Pearl doesn’t land the role of her dreams, it leads to horrific delights for us, the viewers.

This year’s most memorizing horror performance comes from Mia Goth’s now career-defining turn in Ti West’s Pearl. Part of a now-growing trilogy of films by West, Pearl serves as a prequel to the 70s-inspired X that came out earlier in 2022. Set in 1918, we follow the murderous and marvelous Pearl, played by Mia Goth. We were first introduced to the character in X, where Goth plays an older version of the role. She also stars as Maxine in Ti West’s X, serving double duty in the slasher.

While we spend some time with Goth’s Pearl in X, we really get to know her in her titular film. The prequel fleshes out much of Pearl’s character traits, showing how we eventually met the horrifyingly horny older woman in the 70s. We get to know her wants and desires here, which leads to insanely delightful work from Goth.

Throughout the film, Pearl goes from a deeply troubled farm girl to a deeply troubled farm girl with a body count. But the Pearl movie makes a simple slasher premise into something more. This was like seeing what made Mrs. Voorhees who she was before the events of Friday The 13th; we get a deep dive into a woman gone mad.

The quest for fame, the anger at her living situation, and her sexual desires all drive Pearl to do some heinous things, but the Technicolor madness is something you can’t look away from.

Ti West is known for his traditional horror work, but he made a film that goes beyond just horror and beckons back to iconic pieces like Strait-Jacket and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.

Mia Goth has been grinding her away through indie horrors and arthouse films since her debut in 2013. Her debut in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is often overlooked, and so is her turn in 2017’s A Cure for Wellness. It wasn’t until X came around that we got to see more from her than ever before. She’s had prominent roles before, but Ti West found how to use her talents ideally.

Throughout X, we see Goth play the young, hungry ingenue Maxine and the older Pearl. While her more youthful performance was a compelling role for Goth, she brought such life to Pearl, even through all the prosthetics. You knew this character had a lot of things boiling underneath the surface. West did such an excellent job with her role that you wanted a prequel to see what led her to this. Thankfully West already knew that would happen and crafted Pearl simultaneously.

Mia Goth is an absolute powerhouse in Pearl, bringing the titular character to life in an even more compelling fashion than in the first entry. She brings to life memories of Judy Garland and Joan Crawford… a genuine twisted innocence. This is an old Hollywood performance for a film filled with old Hollywood flair. And we all know the Academy loves movies focusing on this period.

While we will get into the horror parts of the film that could hinder any Oscars’ love, it’s painfully apparent that there are elements of this performance tailored made for the awards season. The whole movie brings back memories of the golden era of cinema while showcasing a new star. It’s a love letter to technicolor movies and classic character studies. All of this is centered around Mia Goth’s top-tier performance.

Not saying Pearl isn’t a solid film overall, but this is a one-woman show. She fills nearly every film frame, chewing up her moments but never making them feel too camp. The performance feels perfectly period accurate in tone and style, which should bring Goth much praise. While Pearl is a demented woman, Goth brings empathy to the role. You could easily paint her as a broad, over-the-top wacko, but they never once go there. She’s a tortured soul led down a dark path she eventually embraces.

This performance takes you back to a recent Oscars Best Actor winner, Joaquin Phoenix, in 2019’s Joker. He’s playing a dark, twisted, and layered role, which is also featured in a genre that the Academy usually doesn’t love. It’s wild how similar Goth and Phoenix are in these roles, which is high praise for both performers.

Goth gets to shine and prove her worthy of a nomination with her eight-minute monologue, where she lets loose all her feelings. Pearl’s character is at a breaking point, and West makes the beautiful choice to focus the camera on Mia Goth’s striking face. We feel every word like we’re the Howard she’s yelling at; you feel the pain from her words. It’s a masterful performance and would easily make for a “here’s why you should vote for me” type of moment.

But here’s the sad part…the Academy Awards infamously hate horror films. Unless your name is Silence of the Lambs, you don’t have a chance to get love from the film’s most prestigious awards show. Even classics like Jaws, The Exorcist, and The Shining have all been overlooked by the Academy.

While projects like The Lighthouse or Get Out have made it to the big awards show, Peele even taking home a trophy for the latter, there are still some insanely overlooked performances and films at the Academy Awards. In recent years, the anti-horror bias has been apparent when prestige or “elevated horror” went into fashion, and we saw performances like never before. We saw Toni Collette in Hereditary, Lupita Nyong’o in Us, and Florence Pugh in Midsommer completely shunned.

A24 has a solid track record at the Oscars, and it seems they could have another great year with one of their other projects. Everything, Everywhere, All At Once will likely be the darling of the company, and it’s a good choice. But they also have a little engine that could help Pearl and Mia Goth’s performance. There’s a dream world where Goth and Michelle Yeoh could represent the genre A24 films at the awards show.

As mentioned earlier, Pearl does have the advantage of feeling like an homage to movies, which the Academy tends to admire. It also hits plenty of other notes a traditional Oscar contender needs: we are seeing an actress cut loose in a crazed role, i.e., Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Kathy Bates in Misery, and Natalie Portman in Black Swan. Portman’s performance might be the best case to point out why Pearl could make it. It’s a dark horror-tinged film from an auteur filmmaker and a young actress finally getting her chance to shine. Whatever campaign they ran in 2010 to get Black Swan and Natalie Portman that win, A24 should follow that for Mia Goth in Pearl.

We are also in an era where The Oscars desperately need viewership, and horror fans would finally perk up if they felt represented at the biggest award show. Look at how Black Panther, Lady Gaga, and even Joker boosted ratings and general interest in a show. Mia Goth’s star-making performance in Pearl would not only hook the genre fans into it but also gives usual awards watchers an introduction to a powerful performance in a stellar film.

There’s a part of me that feels like the internet and horror fans could will this into existence. Online campaigns push performances or films to other levels, and Pearl needs that type of support.

Mia Goth gave three performances in one year, set in the same film universe, playing almost three very different characters, and that’s not usual these days. For that, she needs time to shine, and we need to see what Pearl can do with true love.

Hey, The Academy, give horror a chance, and more specifically, give Mia Goth her deserved nomination.

Do you want to see Mia Goth head to the Oscars for her work in Pearl? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…

EJ Moreno


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