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Pearl Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

Shot back-to-back in secret with Ti West’s first premise X, this prequel tells the terrifying backstory of the elderly, deranged killer Pearl.

Genre: Drama / Horror

Director: Ti West

Cast: Mia Goth, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, David Corenswet, Emma Jenkins-Purro Amelia Reid & Alistair Howard.

Run Time: 130 min.

US Release: 16 September 2022

UK Release: 17 March 2023

German Release: 01 June 2023

The story of how Pearl was produced is unheard of! A24 signed off on the sequel, while the crew were wrapping up production for X in New Zealand. This allowed West to keep on filming at the same set location, not only saving on production costs but wrapping up two movies in one go. The release of his second feature in a horror trilogy, however, did not go as smoothly as X. While the US got to see his creative vision late last year, other countries will have to wait until mid-to-late 2023 to see it on the big screen. I had the good fortune to get to see it on my flight back from Dubai.

Reversing back in time, to 1918, Pearl finds herself trapped on her family's isolated farm. At the height of the Spanish flu pandemic, as well as the first World War, she is tasked to ail her invalid father under the embittered eyes of her devout mother. Lusting for stardom and glamour, the young woman finds herself on the brink of madness, trying to escape the drudgery of her daily life.

Ti West, who had never planned to create a prequel, or sequel, for that matter, developed the idea for an origin story during the two-week quarantine when entering New Zealand. He collaborated on it with lead actress Mia Goth, in her first screenwriting credit, taking inspiration from the impact the Coronavirus was having on the cinema industry. To his great surprise, A24 green-lit his pitch, thus enabling him to begin production immediately after wrapping up with X.

His first flick was influenced by the rise of independent filmmakers in the late 70s, inspired directly by Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Pearl, on the other hand, is influenced by the melodramas of German director Douglas Sirk, combining it with strong saturated colours, seen during the rise of Technicolor pictures and fairytales a-la The Wizard of Oz. West pulled especially inspiration from the latter, as he describe his script as being a “demented Disney tale”. The topic of a pandemic, including face coverage, is also included.

Just as in the predecessor, the plot unfolds slowly, giving time for the characters to develop in the situation they find themselves in. Pearl is firstly and foremost a drama that gradually reveals itself to be a twisted, psychotic horror. The premise could best be described as Dorothy taking a detour, ending up in a nightmare version of her fairytale.

The dialogue makes use of German language, even if only through a couple of sentences. Mostly, it reflects the movies that influenced it. It also contains dialogues, hinting at the lead’s mental instability. Furthermore, it uses profanities as well as sexual context.

Mia Goth knocks it out of the park with her rendition as the titular lead. Just like Maxine Minx, she is influenced by the early filmmaking industry, which directly influences her desire for fame, love, acceptance and sexual freedom, from which she has been sheltered her whole life. Her sweet appearance, plus her naive mindset are a facade for a far more dangerous, unstable persona, lurking in her psyche. Still, as the lead in a feature, she is written to be incredibly insufferable!

Tandi Wright as Ruth, Pearl’s mother of German descent, gives a fabulously strong performance. Ruth is marked by the hard times she suffered. Dreams she had as a young woman were shattered by the harsh realities of life. She despises her daughter for her ignorance and dreams, yet fears her more for what she really is. Matthew Sunderland plays the main character’s father, who is completely paralysed, unable to move or speak.

A young Howard, a soldier of World War I, is played by Alistair Sewell, but only makes an appearance at the end. He is generally not part of the plot.

Cinematographically, Pearl makes full use of rich, saturated colours that pay homage to the times of Technicolor. The use of freeze frames, montages plus intercuts gives it a fairytale-like flair. The pacing is mostly balanced, but the ending starts dragging along a little. Kills are mostly off-screen, using upward angles, as the titular character looks down on her prey before ending their life.

Effects are kept largely practical, using mannequins, puppets, prosthetics or detailed makeup design. The setting is crafted heavily after The Wizard of Oz, with even a scarecrow making a cameo on screen. Costumes are designed after the early 1900s.

The musical score, composed again by Tyler Bates, though this time around in cooperation with Tim Williams, makes use of string instruments and piano notes. Set to pay tribute to early romanticised fantasy tales, the soundtrack quickly switches tones to a more sinister, deranged melody.


Verdict: This prequel to one of my favourite horror flicks of 2022, is deliciously twisted and able to stand by itself. The setting it plays in is interlaced with typical cinematography of that era, specifically the Technicolor-like saturated colours. While the exterior is rendered like a typical fairytale of the 30s, the deeper the plot focuses on the lead character’s psyche, the more that fantasy starts to ripple apart, leading to a surrealistic twist into a psychotic mind. The pacing is consistent for the most part, yet the ending starts to slow down the story considerably. The script pays tribute to Douglas Sirk, just like Disney movies. The biggest influence, however, is MGM’s The Wizard of Oz. Performances are off the chart, though the characterisation of Pearl, can become gratingly irritating. That said, Mia Goth is brilliant as the titular villain. The music is fantastical and eerie at the same time. Even if I don’t consider this feature to be as strong as X, Pearl is worth a watch! I’ll give it a 7.5 out of 10.

Which Ti West-A24 horror film do you prefer? Is it X or Pearl? Leave a comment below to let me know if you agree with my review. Thank you for reading!

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