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Pearl is another horror delicacy from Ti West, aptly elevated by a show-stopping performance from Mia Goth. It’s a prequel to the remarkably entertaining throwback slasher flick X, which joined A24 Films’ popular filmography in March 2022. The popular film studio managed to hide the secret that is Pearl, which taps into a very different world of horror and the pursuit of stardom.

'Pearl' 4.0 star rating graphic

‘Pearl’ is the origin story of Ti West’s ‘X’

'Pearl' Mia Goth as Pearl holding her hands together to pray. She has her eyes closed, wearing a red dress, with her hands covered in blood.
Mia Goth as Pearl | A24 Films

Pearl takes a step back 61 years from X into 1918. The title character (Goth) grew up on her family’s farm with her stern mother (Tandi Wright) and wheelchair-user father (Matthew Sunderland). However, Pearl has dreams that go far beyond the scenic fields and farm animals. She aspires to make it onto the silver screen as a dancer and to prove to all doubters that she has the beauty, charisma, and talent to make it all the way.

But audiences who saw X already know what fate has in store for his young woman. A handsome projectionist (David Corenswet) and her sister-in-law, Misty (Emma Jenkins-Purro), act as supportive voices in her pursuit of a grander future. Still, Pearl’s mother doesn’t plan on allowing her to leave so easily. West and Goth’s screenplay takes viewers on a journey to discover how she ultimately became a vicious killer.

Writer/director Ti West tells a twisted story about love and dreams

Pearl instills a sense of surrealism from its opening scene. She wears her mother’s old things in front of a mirror, imagining a dance performance. However, the matriarch of the household quickly interrupts it, bringing the film’s lead back into reality. Nevertheless, Pearl continues to disappear into another place in her mind throughout the narrative, where she regularly dances with inanimate objects and names her farm animals after notable picture stars. West and Goth’s screenplay continues to play with dreams of the future and the harsh realities of the present.

A no-nonsense mother and an ill father keep Pearl on the farm, making her feel like a prisoner. Her adoring husband, Howard (Alistair Sewell), left to fight in World War I, with the 1918 influenza pandemic looming as the backdrop. Society remains terrified of sickness, which acts as another barrier for Pearl to break through as she questions what exactly separates her way of thinking from all those around her.

The title character finds solace in secret trips to the cinema to admire the latest picture, her friendship with Misty, and the irresistible projectionist. Each element plays into her dream-like scenario that further blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Opportunity always feels far out of reach, as Pearl latches onto anything that will take her far away, whether that’s physically or mentally. At its core, this is a story about the tug-of-war between love and sickness, but they often aren’t depicted in a literal sense and are occasionally one and the same.

‘Pearl’ is a nightmarish Golden Age Hollywood delight

'Pearl' Mia Goth as Pearl with scarecrow climbing on top of a scarecrow cross. A top hat is on top of the scarecrow with her face close to the scarecrow's.
Mia Goth as Pearl | A24 Films

‘X’ Prequel: Mia Goth Doesn’t Think Pearl Is a Villain

West returns to Pearl with the same excellent direction he used in X but incorporates a different visual flair to make them complimentary, albeit distinctive. He plays with the visual location on the farm, teasing familiar shots. However, cinematographer Eliot Rockett gorgeously incorporates Technicolor visuals reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz. It wonderfully plays off the film’s dream-like qualities, allowing the audience to delve deeper into the mind of its title character.

Goth is the film’s centerpiece, with every element relying on her ability to sell it. Pearl simply doesn’t work without her, putting immense pressure on the actor. However, Goth is utterly convincing in every frame, infusing this prequel with peaks and valleys. She makes the character swing between oddly sympathetic and utterly terrifying in the bat of an eye, resulting in a jaw-dropping acting showcase. An over-long and repetitive monologue is detrimental to the film’s pace, but Goth makes it work.

Pearl doesn’t really add much to the narrative that audiences didn’t already get from X, but it does enrich it. Horror fans will find this prequel more focused on the drama than its predecessor, making it more of a twisted drama of sorts. However, that isn’t to say that West skimps out on the gore when it’s called for. Pearl is a Golden Age Hollywood narrative that unravels into a captivating yet nightmarish trip about love and sickness. The end credits act as a wonderfully disturbing and tragic bookend that is difficult to shake.

Pearl hits theaters on Sept. 16.