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'Pearl' review: Mia Goth goes from broke in slick 'X' origin story

Courtesy of A24


If you stuck around after the credits to Ti West’s retro slasher “X,” you might have been surprised to see a teaser for “Pearl,” a prequel that was made on a shoestring budget with the same sets used in “X” after that film wrapped filming. I doubt anyone who purchased a ticket thought they were agreeing to a potential franchise starter (a third entry entitled “MaXXXine” is already in development), but if it means watching Mia Goth absolutely chew up nearly two hours of screen time, then I guess it’s worth the strategy. Spoilers ahead for “X,” which If you haven’t seen it yet, make that a priority as it stands among 2022’s best films. 

“X” saw Goth play two roles, Maxine, an aspiring movie star who visited Texas to film a grungy, low-budget adult film and was the sole survivor of a ravenous killing spree; and she also donned heavy prosthetics to play a horny, elderly, and sadistic farmers daughter named Pearl who enjoyed penetrating Maxine’s co-stars with pitchforks and other farm implements. “Pearl” is the origin story behind what drove her eventual killer instincts and Goth, along with West, wrote the screenplay with an eye for crafting a Technicolor, “Wizard of Oz” inspired lens. 

That’s to say “Pearl” isn’t as dirty or bloody as “X,” instead it feels like a completely different movie. A character study that, like the location which inhabits much of the film: Powder Keg Farms, takes a potboiler approach to where it eventually lands. It doesn’t pack the same wallop that “X” did or feature a memorable death by crocodile (sorry Brittany Snow fans), but Goth makes a meal out of the character who at one point delivers a no-holds-bar five-minute, one-take monologue.

Set 50 years before the events of “X” in 1918, “Pearl” lives on the same farm in Texas, with its shiny red barn, creepy basement, and an alligator eagerly awaiting lunch. Her life is stuck in a rut and she’s looking for something, anything to take her away. Her husband, Howard, is currently deployed overseas, leaving her alone with her parents: a strict, gaslighting German mother (Tandi Wright) and dad (Matthew Sunderland) who is a vegetable that’s been incapacitated by the Spanish flu. The only time Pearl gets time to herself is when she bikes into town and picks up dad’s medicine. There, she sneaks off to the local theater and watches the moving pictures, fantasizing about a life on the big screen and even strikes up an affair with the projectionist (David Corenswet) who shows her French pornography and entices her with the promise of a bohemian lifestyle in Europe.

From there, “Pearl” ups the tension and slowly guides the viewer on a journey more psychological than gnarly. There are grisly thrashings, of course, and an axe-chase scene for the ages, but “Pearl” brings different dimensions into the slasher genre. The score by Tyler Bates and Tim Williams give big “What Happened to Baby Jane?” vibes and the vibrant, overwhelming colors bleed on the screen in a way that juxtaposes the bawdy and grimy attitude of “X” and West (who also edited the picture) allows Goth the freedom to roll with the punches and in the blood.

Be sure to stay during the credits and see if you can beat Goth in a staring contest.

Grade: B

PEARL is now playing in theaters.


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