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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

Pearl // Film Review

Pearl is first and foremost a companion piece to X, Ti West’s porn slasher flick that hit theatres only earlier this year. West shot the two films back-to-back, developing the story for this one in collaboration with its star, Mia Goth on set during the filming of its predecessor, which results in a movie that can feel at times like additional material to the tour-de-force of X, but that is in no way a bad thing.

Pearl is centred around its titular character; an eager, if off-putting farm girl with dreams of becoming a movie star. The only thing getting in her way is her lack of an ‘X-Factor’, which is defined by judges at a local dance competition as “younger and blonder.” But there is more at play than simple Hollywood misogyny; Pearl likes to hurt things, only animals for now but with her husband away at war and her parents treating her more like a servant than a daughter, the table is set for that all to change. They better hope she gets that audition, to say the least.

Pearl is played by Goth, reprising her prosthetics-aided role as the older, deteriorated version of the character from X, here with a wide-eyed curiosity and ambitions of grandeur absent from the bitter and nasty woman we know she will become. It’s a classic prequel setup; a house full of characters we know won’t be around for long, and a future movie monster slap bang in the middle, just on the edge of a total breakdown.

The most distinctive feature of Pearl isn’t its clever foreshadowing and dramatic irony, rather its instantly charming Technicolour aesthetic. Composed with a serious attention to detail by cinematographer Eliot Rockett, Pearl’s worn blue dungarees become a glowing parallel to Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, constrasting all the more with the sharp, blazings shades of red when blood starts to fly. Pearl looks both seventy years old and entirely new, an historic relic from that never existed, with the result being a prequel that feels entirely unique, and all the creepier for it. There are visuals in this film that you’ll never forget, particularly when the glamour of Golden Age Hollywood takes a turn for the perverse (Singin in the Rain didn’t feature half this many maggots), resulting in both laughs and gasps, often only seconds apart.

So while Pearl might not have a whole lot new to say, the craftsmanship alone makes for an infectiously giddy second serving from director West, who after a decade long absence has broken new technical ground in the horror genre twice in the space of a year. So if you have the stomach for a bit of stabbing, burning and axe-slashing mania, then I daresay you’ll be hard pushed to find a better time at the pictures this year.

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival 2022.


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