Entertainment Column: “Pearl” solidifies Mia Goth as this generations scream queen

October 3, 2022

Earlier this year in March, A24 released “X”, an elevated horror/slasher that received much praise and has continued to be a topic of conversation throughout the year among horror fans. 

The film was directed by Ti West and starred Mia Goth. Goth especially made a splash with the film, as she played the lead protagonist, Maxine, as well as the antagonist, Pearl, which required heavy use of prosthetics. Her performance was impressive in its duality and had everyone wondering what the future held for Goth as a leading woman. 

Many were surprised to see that she would be back and better than ever just six short months after the release of “X,” when “Pearl” released in theaters on September 16. Both Goth and Ti West returned as lead and director respectively. “Pearl” is a prequel, showing the backstory about how the villain of “X” came to be. 

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Goth is yet again playing Pearl, but without her aging prosthetics, as a young woman working on a Texas farm in 1918, 60 years prior to “X.” The film also largely takes place in the same location as “X.” While on the surface, it may seem like “Pearl” is retreading a lot of the same ground, it’s doing anything but.

“Pearl” is a major deviation from the pulpy gore-fest of “X’ and is far more interested in the psychological torment that can make a seemingly innocent girl make the turn into a bona fide serial killer. 

Pearl is stuck on the farm with her German immigrant parents during the Spanish Flu outbreak and the first World War. Her father was fully paralyzed in the war and has no communication or movement whatsoever. Her mother is ferociously overbearing and emotionally abusive, as she has been tasked with providing for the family in her father’s absence. Pearl’s new husband, Howard, is also absent serving in the war.  

The film continues down a dark and twisted path, showing Pearl’s psychopathic deviant tendencies slowly creeping into her day-to-day life. She has high hopes for stardom, wishing to be a rich and famous dancer who travels the world. As her relationship with her mother strains, things only get more tense. 

“Pearl” is without a doubt, Mia Goth’s film. Her performance alone carries it from beginning to end and showcases her immense talent. She bounces from terrifying, to hilarious, to achingly tragic with complete control and confidence. 

Around halfway through the film, Pearl undertakes a major shift in character and mental stability, presenting one of the most realistic and upsetting portrayals of someone being pushed into complete psychopathy.

On top of a complete powerhouse performance throughout the film’s runtime, Goth acts out a gut-wrenching monologue near the end of the film that will terrify and impress any self-respecting filmgoer. This has already started some awards season buzz on social media, with fans suggesting the scene deserves Oscar attention. 

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Although “Pearl” has completely solidified Goth as a force to be reckoned with, it wasn’t without its issues. While West is an undoubtedly impressive director, with a keen eye for visuals and talented editing to boot, his influence can wear a bit thin throughout the film.

While “X” could be considered on the slow side in terms of pacing for a modern slasher, it was a NASCAR race compared to “Pearl,” which suffers from a sadistically slow pace. It can range from euphoric, in the case of Goth’s monologue, to a complete slog in many sequences. 

There are numerous scenes that would benefit from being cut down and shortened. The plot takes quite a while to display any sort of major turn, until around the last forty-five minutes of the film. “Pearl” is not exactly a traditionally structured film, but while this is not necessarily a negative, it undoubtedly could have used some tightening. 

I found myself often perplexed with long stretches of the film, which seem only to serve West’s own indulgence to let the camera or moment linger a bit too long. This results in “Pearl” not being the most “fun” watch in many ways. While the subject matter at hand is already heavy, the film insists on poking and prodding its audience with West’s fully unrestrained aesthetic choices. 

“Pearl” may be largely uneven and in need of some restraint, but when it works it really works. There are loads of sequences that I haven’t stopped thinking of since walking out of the theater with most of them being elevated by the excellent cinematography from Eliot Rockett, a frequent collaborator with West. 

There are many frames that already feel iconic, whether it be the kills or its end credits sequence, which may be the most uncomfortable you’ll ever be while reading a cast list. “Pearl” is also heavily inspired by the glitzy technicolor films of the 1950s, having a color palette not dissimilar to those like “The Wizard of Oz.” 

On nearly every technical level, “Pearl” is masterfully made. While the prequel’s script can feel a bit undeveloped and overly ambitious, it serves as an impressive addition to the fast-developing lexicon of 2020s horror. 

West and Goth are most certainly positioning themselves as horror’s next big duo as a third film in the “X” franchise has already been greenlit. This sequel, titled “MaXXXine,” will be set after the events of “X” in the 1980s, with West returning to direct and Goth reprising her role as Maxine. This strikes up similarities to other iconic director/star duos such as John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis.

There truly has never been a better time to be a horror fan than in 2022, with multiple stellar original films and even more to look forward to.

Staff reporter Zaden Dennis can be reached at [email protected] and you can find his other reviews at letterboxd.com/Zadenator.

 

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