Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans

PEARL *****


Directed by Ti West.
 Starring Mia Goth, Tandi Wright, David Corenswet.
 Horror, US, 103 minutes, certificate 15.

Released in cinemas in the UK 17th March by Universal

Reviewed as part of Glasgow Film Festival 2023


Conceived and written in a whiplash inducing two weeks while undergoing mandatory quarantine in preparation for filming its predecessor by both director Ti West and lead actress Mia Goth, PEARL feels that it could be the most anticipated prequel since THE PHANTOM MENACE. Thankfully the result is a far more entertaining, bloodier and flat-out unsettling experience this time around. It may be a glib comparison but after nearly half a year after its US release and a wave of acclaim including high praise from Martin Scorsese, UK genre audiences who fell for the retro thrills of X are desperate to see after so long whether PEARL lives up to the hype.


Once again, the screen fades in from the interior of the barn where fifty years later all sorts of bloodshed ensued in X. The framing there of the barn door momentarily deceived us with a 4x3 ratio before expanding to the more conventional 16x9 format revealing the decrepit and dusty farmhouse where the elderly Pearl would embark on a killing spree that was particularly impressive for her age. This time around the frame grows out to a glorious Cinemascope landscape. The house is freshly painted, the grass is greener, and the sky is a sparkling Technicolor blue and Pearl is full of life and hope. Posing and dancing in front of her bedroom mirror we immediately see that she has the same hopes and dreams that X’s Maxine also aspires for over half a century later.


Along with these hopes and dreams however we see Pearl’s more troubling side. With a husband fighting abroad in the Great War, a strict and loveless mother and a mute, wheelchair bound father, Pearl dreams of escaping the farm she calls home and fleeing for pastures anew in pursuit of fame and love. Finding solace in the musicals that play in the local picture house, Pearl befriends the projectionist who soon exposes her to a certain type of film making its way around the underground circuit that, along with an upcoming dance audition, could provide the basis for her escape. All the while Pearl’s psychosis is beginning to increase and show itself in increasingly disturbing ways.


The parallels to X are smartly laid out as well as to more recent times. Set in 1918 during the influeza pandemic, there is an unsettling yet amusing edge to watching these period characters fret about keeping their distance from each other whilst wearing face masks. The fact that this film would probably not exist at all without the pandemic that we have all experienced ourselves, is a neat reminder that the more things change the more they stay the same. This aspect is further enforced by Pearl’s hunger to find love through fame, her talents being put on display and judged by a panel of judges in a manner that is all too reminiscent of the talent shows that still seem to dominate Saturday night television schedules.


Where X was a thrilling call back to 70’s horror, PEARL plays out like the widescreen melodrama’s of the 50’s and 60’s with a healthy dollop of Southern gothic thrown in. One musical sequence displays a higher level of visual ambition than its already impressive predecessor. As striking as West’s direction is however, Goth’s contributions add an extra dimension here, whether it is the multi-layered characterisation or her thrillingly, committed performance that somehow has seem to have gone mystifyingly by the attentions of awards voters. Her show stopping ten-minute monologue, performed in one take, is one of the most astonishing pieces of performance and character work in recent memory.


So, yes, this has been well worth the wait. Hopefully we will not have to wait so long for MAXXXINE, the closing chapter of the trilogy that brings us into the 80’s. West’s stylish direction here, the best of his impressive career so far, certainly whets the appetite whilst Goth’s reputation as one of the most exciting talents in horror cinema is fully cemented here.  No matter how long the wait, it’s too long.


Iain MacLeod.


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Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans