Movie Review, Pearl


Story by Alex Paulino, Arts & Culture Editor

Pearl begins moderately tame compared to the rest of the film’s theatrics. You are immediately immersed into the 1918 American south when you’re taken along for our main character, Pearl’s, daily routine. 

She tends to her ailing father while she is forced to conform to her strict mother’s rules, you immediately see she is not allowed much freedom in her home. Then, she goes into her family’s barn, where she dances whimsically to herself. She proclaims “I do love a good audience!” to the other animals in the barn, as a cheeky nod to the audience. 

At this point, you immediately begin to root for Pearl. In the first five minutes, you immediately understand where the conflict originates and what the goal of our protagonist is. It is a heartfelt goal, she just wants to be free. She desires to become an actress as she sees in the pictures. 

Then, as all is seemingly fine, she mercilessly kills a duck with a pitchfork and feeds it to a crocodile. At this moment, the status quo changes. The audience is taken aback. You are no longer following the hopeless dreamer, you are following a deranged sociopath. 

Shot from the opening scene in Pearl.


Pearl is an unsettling wonderland. At times, it is extremely gritty. The dark undertones unnerve the viewer, while simultaneously, the film boasts a gorgeous orchestral soundtrack with pretty visuals. 

It is a horror film that finds its narrative roots within earlier  1960s horror films like What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1966) and Blood and Black Lace (1964), while also borrowing its thematic/stylistic cues from Pre-Code Hollywood films like 3 on a Match (1932) and Safe in Hell (1931). 

It is wonderful how director Ti West is able to use these influences to create a truly unique, distinct, and enthralling horror film that can stand on its own despite being a prequel. For those unaware, Pearl serves as a 60-year rewind to Ti West’s previous film X, which was released earlier this year. Though the two share the same antagonist, the two could not be more different. 

Where X focused on themes of perversion and aging, Pearl is focused on commenting on societal roles and dreams. The two differ with distinct styles, and a momentous amount of praise goes to Ti West for allowing his cinematic palette to expand with just 2 films. 

Pearl with a top hat is peak cinema.

*Spoilers for Pearl will Follow*


Ti West has stated that he intended Pearl to feel like a “demented Disney movie”, and he was able to create this oxymoron wonderfully. It is not just because of the intriguingly edited montages and technicolor juxtaposed with cruel murder and gore, but rather due to the themes. 

Disney movies tend to feel magical, with cues similar to those in Pearl. You typically follow an underdog, someone who is so downtrodden that good fortune should feel more like a right than an obstacle. This is where the demented side of West’s vision comes into the spotlight. 

Where films like Mary Poppins have dance sequences led by characters with perfect attitudes and moods, Pearl has dance sequences that are loose and messy led by characters who are destined to fail. Films like Cinderella follow characters that work hard to get what they want, and Pearl follows a character who works hard to get nothing. Pearl may maintain the colorful atmosphere and visuals, but it is this juxtaposition that creates such a toxic yet engaging experience. 

Pearl is held down in shackles by her home life. Her mother, Ruth, forces her to conform to her role as a woman, telling her to just “make the most from what [she] has.” She’s forced to confide in farm life without any means of ventilating her dreams or frustrations. This is why her relationship with The Projectionist is so crucial.

The Projectionist is supposed to represent masculinity whereas Pearl represents femininity. He takes advantage of her dreams and her wishes. By giving Pearl an outlet to vent her frustrations, they establish a bond of trust. But as we see later in the film, she’s so closeted that any form of backlash is seen as a “betrayal” to her. Her outlet to love is cut when she feels conflicted. 

In this sense, Pearl serves as a critique of feminine social roles. Ruth hangs Pearl’s role around the farm in front of her, while also disallowing her the room to experiment with her own life. It is this sort of oppression that creates the main message of Pearl. It allows the final shot of the film, the still three minutes of Pearl’s distorted face, to carry such weight. She has allowed her mother to win. All she ever wanted was some sort of love, and now she believes the only way to gain that love is through conforming herself to the ‘role’ given to her. It is heartbreaking, it is bleak, but it is narratively cohesive. 

Mia Goth, as she appears in the titular role.


From a technological and narrative standpoint, Pearl is a knockout. However, it would be a mutiny to write about it and not mention the most prominent highlight: Mia Goth. 

On a personal note, I have been closely watching Goth’s career for quite some time. I enjoyed her in films like Marrowbone (2017) and Emma. (2020), however, it always felt like she was overshadowed by her co-stars. In X and especially Pearl, however, Goth completely steals the show on every fundamental level. 

A role like this is a monumental task. In just one character Goth has to balance innocence, insanity, shyness, anger, fear, anxiety, and acceptance all in one 100-minute feature. To put it simply, she is able to demonstrate a ridiculous range in just one role. It feels extremely reminiscent of some of the more unique roles of classic actresses like Bette Davis.

A highlight of Goth for me is the audition scene. Happiness is a rare emotion in this film, and to see it portrayed in such a twisted and disorganized way was captivating. Then, when she’s predictably rejected, her cries of agony are disheartening. She screams “Please, I’m a star!” before pleading “help me!” which makes me wonder if her goal was really to become a movie star or rather escape her traumatic past. 

The standout scene for Goth is her eight-minute monologue to Mitsy. An enormous amount of exposition for Pearl’s marriage to Howard, her regrets of coming from a lower-income family, and her enjoyment of murdering others is dumped onto the audience and I fully believe that the only reason why it works is Goth’s performance. This scene is one of the few times where Pearl is seemingly calm and yet the things she is saying are abhorrent. It creates a disgusting contrast, and it is brilliant. 

There are some minor inconsistencies I have with Pearl, despite the multitude of highlights. Most of it consists of what I consider to be missed opportunities, like the character of Mitsy.

I thought there should’ve been more emphasis on how Mitsy and Pearl contrast, and without that emphasis, I feel like her death does not carry substantial weight. Mitsy has a relatively smaller role in this film, and a much larger part could benefit some of the film’s themes. 

Besides a tiny hiccup, Pearl is a blissful knockout. It manages to completely outshine its predecessor, X, in several ways. The cinematography is swift and mobile, the color is vibrant, the soundtrack is bombastic yet eerie, the performances are delightful, and the story is almost airtight. This is a movie I see myself revisiting. 



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