Unveiled as a surprise, Pearl is the ‘origin story’ for director Ti West’s previous film, X (2022). Clever and sleazy, X benefitted from a unique gimmick – both the ‘final girl’ and her aged nemesis, Pearl, were played by the venturesome Mia Goth. That lent poignancy to its themes of youth and maturity, as well as intriguing ‘how did they do that’ moments when both Goths co-existed on-screen. Exploring the roots of its title character’s pathology, Pearl gives Goth only one character to play – but fear not, she makes a full meal of it.
While X was an ensemble piece, Pearl – for which Goth shares a co-writing credit – is a one-woman show. Its wisp of a plot sees pig-tailed farm-girl Pearl – a curdled Dorothy Gale – seduced by the idea that she is meant for stardom. How far will she go in pursuit of her dream? The answer involves a pitchfork.
As ever with West, a pleasure of Pearl is its precise style. After the amber-hued grindhouse of X, Pearl is a kind of Sirkian technicolor melodrama. The look is persuasive (as is the score by Tyler Bates and Tim Williams), though the distancing ‘film within a film’ artificiality may be an acquired taste. Still, when most genre cinema is a mess of hacked-together ‘trailer moments’, it’s a blessed thing to marinate in West’s world.
And so to Goth. She certainly swings for the fences – imagine Shelley Duvall taking on the Jack Nicolson role in The Shining – but this correspondent has always found her more compelling at the chillier end of her register. Her commitment to the bit is unimpeachable, but the sidelong glance with which she regarded her ruined other ‘self’ in X said more than the ten-minute monologue she delivers here. Its aria of hysteria feels somewhat like a stunt.
Words: David Turpin
Director: Ti West
Talent: Mia Goth
Release Date: March 17