Pearl justifies its existence by telling a complete story that, if this is the last we see of Pearl, completely fills in any of the blanks that remained after X.
Written by Andrew Korpan / September 19, 2022
More so than any horror film this year, the success story of Ti West’s X is the twist of the year. West’s slasher took the indie scene by storm, grossing $11,765,309 domestically and $14,476,595 domestically and worldwide, respectively, on a budget of just $1 million. X starred the likes of 2022’s Scream Queen Jenna Ortega and Kid Cudi, but it was Mia Goth that stood head and shoulders above the (uber talented) rest. Goth played two roles that juxtaposed each other: Maxine — who’s next in line to get their own film — who’s one of the adult film actresses in the film, and Pearl, the elderly woman hunting down the production crew. Luckily for her own sake and workload, Goth doesn’t have to pull double duty in Pearl, a prequel that was written in two weeks by West and Goth and shot pretty much back-to-back with X. West and Goth continue to knock it right out of the park with Pearl, and here’s hoping that the duo become the next Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro.
As mentioned, Pearl serves as a prequel to, well, Pearl. Taking place in 1918 and on the same farm as the one in X, Pearl lives a mundane life of chores and taking care of her sick father while her husband, Howard (Alistair Sewell), is serving his time in World War I overseas. But despite how much she loves her cow Charlie and her father, she’s unfulfilled with this life. You might find yourself asking: What does Pearl want to do? She wants to be seen by more than her parents and livestock — both of whom seem to constantly judge her. Pearl shows the titular character’s journey in finding that fulfillment
It should be noted right away that Pearl is very different than X. You do get the same gory goodness that we saw in X, but Pearl plays up to its time period and oozes Hollywood’s Golden Age. The score by the duo of Tyler Bates and Tim Williams is wonderful and akin to the work Christopher Willis did on Schmigadoon! last year. And yes, X did take its time before getting on with the slashing, but Pearl plays like a drama and thriller for a majority of the runtime as opposed to a slasher film.
Rightfully, everyone is going to talk about Goth — who continues her reign of terror in 2022. She’s fantastic in X but is next-level in Pearl. Despite the fact that you know, she feeds people to her alligator, Pearl is actually a very tragic character. Her husband is absent, her father is sick and her mother is flat-out cold. Add to the fact that the world in 1918 was a different place and she couldn’t just run off and sleep with another guy without the guilt and judgment from others. It’s a subtle story beat that does play into the bigger picture when you recognize how West is changing the era in each film in this series.
Goth also puts the cherry on top of her wonderful performance by way of a fantastic six-minute monologue that rivals Rebecca Hall’s in Resurrection. The edge still goes to Hall ever so slightly as the camera stays on her for the full eight minutes whereas Pearl’s monologue takes a few moments before settling down and focusing solely on her. Nonetheless, being second place to anything Hall is never a bad thing, and Goth’s monologue is just so darn good.
What’s brilliant about the minds of West and Goth is that they understand how to write stories with contrasting characters and themes. For example, Pearl and Maxine really aren’t that different. They both seek out the spotlight and desire the X-factor in their younger years (time will tell if Maxine goes on a killing spree in MaXXXine) and will do anything for it. The story of Pearl taking place during the height of the Spanish Flu pandemic also makes for a compelling contrast to our modern-day predicament. There are facemasks galore — which, admittedly, was a jarring sight to see — and a fear of leaving the house from Ruth (Tandi Wright).
Because of West’s insistence on shooting Pearl so soon after X, we get to revisit the lovely, but creepy, farm. We don’t see much of the main house in X if my memory serves me correctly, and it’s great to see even more of it. West takes us through parts we have seen such as the cellar and the pond and weaves in references to X that’ll make any fan of his previous film happy.
Additionally, West took on the editing role solo this time around — David Kashevaroff served as co-editor on X — which is always a trick move. It actually works out as Pearl is edited even better — or at the very least, more stylistic. Pearl features the works in terms of transitions from the Iris out, fade-outs and swipe transitions; all of which make the film even more aesthetically pleasing to look at. And West also sneaks in some abrupt scene changes that rarely work in other cases. In most cases, this type of transition looks jarring, yet in the case of West, there’s a method to his madness that’s understandable to the audience. I already touched on the music but the score is also paired nicely with the opening and closing credits — which are another nice throwback to films many years ago.
Whether MaXXXine ends the franchise or not, I’ll always be game for more stories in this franchise. It’s the ultimate indie underdog for those who love franchises but don’t mean superheroes when they say that. You could even do a pattern of jumping forward in MaXXXine before going backward, maybe in the 1920s or 1930s now, to continue Pearl’s story and then go back to Maxine. I don’t know, I’m not the parent of this franchise, but rather a lover of it. Who would’ve thought that in a year full of prequels, sequels and “requels” — as they say in Scream (2022) — in the slasher genre, the little engine that could (X) would become this amazing franchise? Oh, and while some prequel films can seem like unnecessary fluff that could’ve been an extra on the DVD copy of the original film — looking at you, Black Widow — Pearl justifies its existence by telling a complete story that, if this is the last we see of Pearl, completely fills in any of the blanks that remained after X. She doesn’t lose any of her mystique a la Darth Vader in the prequel films.