Pearl (2022) – Movie Review

Pearl, 2022.

Directed by Ti West.
Starring Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, Alistair Sewell, and Emma Jenkins-Purro.


Trapped on her family’s isolated farm, Pearl must tend to her ailing father under the bitter and overbearing watch of her devout mother. Lusting for a glamorous life like she’s seen in the movies, Pearl’s ambitions, temptations, and repressions all collide, in the stunning, technicolor-inspired origin story of X’s iconic villain.

Ti West gave viewers a fairly decent idea in X of how Pearl, the elderly horny murderer serving as the villain in that story, lost her marbles. But given the phenomenal juxtaposing dual performances from Mia Goth hinting at greater cataclysm, it was a surprising but sensible decision to include a stinger teasing a prequel expanding on those origins. It’s equally fitting that Mia Goth also serves as a co-writer on Pearl, together shaping this highly disturbing character study. 

Winding the clock back to 1918, Pearl lives in the same farmhouse seen in X, this time as a young adult with her mother and father. Ruth (Tandi Wright) is deeply cautious of the flu pandemic and rightfully so, only allowing her daughter to head into town for retrieving medicine for her father. When Ruth is not doing that, she is tearing down Pearl for having dreams of becoming a Hollywood dancer and desiring a life anywhere away from the isolation and boredom of tending to farm animals (that are sometimes part of her practice audience, and sometimes finding themselves as her first victims).

Pearl’s ticket away from the farmhouse is her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell), except he hasn’t returned from World War I yet and also hasn’t written a letter in a long time (yes, there’s not much suspense in that considering his presence in X, but it is a logical creative choice).

To say I was unprepared for much of what transpires in Pearl would certainly be accurate, but as a disabled person, I never expected Pearl to be placed into a conflicted scenario in that, even if her mom was supportive of these dreams, it would be difficult for her to chase them anyway considering she is in charge of feeding, cleaning, and bathing her quadriplegic, voiceless father. At one point, Pearl is ordered to take pride in her role as a caregiver and to be satisfied with the mundane, bare essentials life she does have, with Ruth finally exclaiming that she signed up to be a wife and not whatever she currently is to her husband.

These are complicated positions to be in and arguably the X-factor to Pearl’s abundance of empathy, as a character and movie. While in the bathtub, Pearl kicks her leg up in the air, as if she is performing for her father. Shortly after that, she asks a devastating question, inquiring out loud if “there is anything left of you in there?” Would Pearl’s father be more supportive if he could function and speak? Is it eating him alive inside that because of this, his daughter has been locked into a lifetime caregiver role (at least until he dies) and is unable to chase her dreams? Deep down, does he want her to run off anyway and live her life?

It’s a heartbreaking moral dilemma at the center of Pearl that is treated with the required thoughtfulness and sensitivity for an emotional impact, alongside an outstandingly expressive reactionary performance from Matthew Sunderland.

Pearl’s desire to leave only becomes amplified once her sister-in-law Mitzy (Emma Jenkins-Purro), whom she is jealous of for living in the city, informs her of a dancing audition at the nearby church where one wonder will be selected to go on tour. As the relationship with her mother becomes increasingly tumultuous, with Ruth making known her conservative values and opinion that all showbusiness women are harlots, Pearl sneaks out into town to the theater more often.

There, she befriends a handsome projectionist (David Corenswet plays the unnamed character) who provides further fuel to the horniness already inhabited due to sexual repression and her husband gone for years, by showing her underground black-and-white porn. That’s one way Ti West and Mia Goth demonstrate that they have thought of everything to tie these two stories together as brilliant parallels (even the overalls prominently featured make an appearance here with thematic purpose).

This is still a horror movie, and for all the fascinating family drama, it’s also evident that Pearl is an odd duck. With that said, another brilliant stroke comes from factoring in the flu pandemic and how it’s not that different from modern life a few years ago, including the unfortunate toll isolation takes on mental health (especially one that already appears to be rocky). As a result, loneliness reaches its peak involving a scene with a scarecrow that, well, let’s just say is going to satisfy someone’s alarming fetish. Much of this creates a mounting dread in the form of a deeply unsettling slasher flick where every kill serves a purpose tied to characterization. 

Eventually, Pearl is tragically broken down with every ounce of hope inside her shattered, stunningly contextualized within minutes on end monologue from Mia Goth that grounds everything about this pleasantly nasty ride into high art. Considering this is a prequel, the final scene is a bit obvious but still wonderfully mad and allows Mia Goth one final opportunity to flex her incredible acting muscles.

It’s no surprise that Ti West is tapping into some of the same themes found in X, but he has refitted that film’s vibe into a classically Hollywood-stylized tragedy ((with beautifully haunting music from Tyler Bates and Tim Williams). Between X and Pearl, Mia Goth is astonishingly transcendent, eliciting empathy despite the character’s insanity; Pearl is as every bit thematically rich as X, if not more so. Both are the definition of master-class horror.

SEE ALSO: Mia Goth: The One To Watch

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]


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