The strange and unusual “Pearl,” a prequel to writer / director Ti West‘s “X”, is a different kind of slasher film. Creating an origin story for the title villain, the film tells the history of a farm girl dreamer with a serious mean streak. It’s a horror movie that’s unlike any other, a candy-colored, nightmarish dream world of lofty ambitions, brutal violence, and bloody murder.
Pearl (Mia Goth) is trapped on her family’s isolated farm. She dutifully performs her barn chores and tends to her ailing, wheelchair-bound father (Matthew Sunderland), all under the stern eye of her overbearing mother (Tandi Wright). Pearl wants nothing more in the world than to live the glamorous life of “the girls in the pictures” that she sees on the big screen at the movies. With her husband Howard off to fight World War I, Pearl finds her ambitions at odds with the reality of the life she’s been dealt. It’s clear something isn’t right with the young woman, and her violent tendencies begin to bubble to the surface.
Things weren’t great for women in 1918, and the world certainly wasn’t a place for a fiery feminist. The film is an intriguing character study of a thoroughly disturbed woman who is a victim of her own gender. Goth is asked to do the film’s heavy lifting, and she gives a wonderfully unhinged lead performance. She screams a lot but displays an impressive range, especially as she is thrust into episodes of psychopathic ire. Her calm demeanor is frightening, and almost as disturbing as her precise, unique kills. Using farm tools, Pearl becomes a skilled murderer as she gives herself over to her homicidal desires.
The story is simple but engaging, and West creates an old-timey mood with a vintage score that fits the tone beautifully. The Technicolor aesthetic harkens back to Hollywood’s Golden Age, a time of traditional glitz and glamour. It’s a great looking film that feels fresh and different, and West directs with an assured eye. His long, unbroken takes are showy but executed with purpose, and the film features a powerful monologue that’s unforgettable.
One of my favorite parts about the movie is the chilling ending, an extended scene of a true demented breakdown that still haunts me. There’s so much that makes this film so memorable, and “Pearl” is a special kind of horror film with a refreshing style and killer instinct.
By: Louisa Moore