Starring: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, and Emma Jenkins-Purro
Director: Ti West
While I thought Ti West’s X was a solid slasher, I didn’t think it was anything special, so I can’t say I was overly excited for Pearl, a prequel to X. Surprisingly, Pearl is actually the better of the two. West has essentially given X’s villain a Joker-esque origin story that is tinted with The Wizard of Oz and Bates Motel. It definitely works, but Pearl has a completely different vibe than X; just because you love one doesn’t mean you will love the other. Pearl is slower, but more nuanced. If X is a “slasher movie,” then Pearl is a “horror film.”
I’m pretty sure I liked X more than Pearl, but even then, Pearl is still an amazing film in its own right. It feels like an entirely different film than its counterpart, as it ditches the sleazy, raunchy, slasher vibe for an old-timey, almost Wizard Of Oz-ish, character study with slasher elements. And Mia Goth, dear Lord - her performance is breathtaking. It’s rare that a performance makes me think “How did she do that?”; one part cartoonish southern accent, one part emerging psychopath, and Goth nails it. We can count Pearl as another win for A24 this year.
Similar to Toni Collette (Hereditary) and Lupita Nyong’o (Us) before her, Mia Goth gives one of the year’s best performances in a horror film that likely will go unheralded. Goth is given the chance to really flesh out the character first seen in X, and in turn, retroactively improves upon that film. This prequel may not be quite as good as its predecessor, but it trades the 70s horror vibes for an almost whimsical effort that shows director Ti West is no one trick pony. With the announcement of MaXXXine up next, West and Goth have the chance to close out an all-time horror trilogy.
Put Stephen King’s Carrie White in The Wizard Of Oz, and you end up with Pearl. My god, director Ti West has killed it again...no pun intended…because Pearl is just so fresh and stylish. It’s rare that a prequel does so much to enhance and enrich what came before it, but this film makes X even better. It also does a phenomenal job of humanizing a villain. Lastly, just wow…Mia Goth gives a mesmerizing, award-worthy performance that, when taken alongside her work in X, solidifies her as a modern day scream queen. Give me more of her now because I can’t wait for MaXXXine!
Pearl works less as an outright horror film than it does a showcase for Mia Goth, but that showcase is a ton of fun to watch. The second in Ti West’s newly-minted “X trilogy,” West once again makes movie magic by draping pornographic desire in The Wizard of Oz aesthetics and letting his star run wild. Mia Goth’s performance is outstanding, her third act monologue sure to go down as an all-time great, and likely to be used in audition rooms for generations to come. I still think X works slightly better overall, but this is a very worthy successor.
This film was reviewed by Nick, Quentin, and Adriano as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.