Six months after the release of Ti West’s older slasher film, xWest gives us a prequel centered around the film’s villain. Pearl is a not-so-long-awaited slasher film set in 1918 against the backdrop of the First World War and the Spanish flu pandemic. Mia Goth reprises her role as Pearl in her origin story. She is a young woman trying to be a Hollywood star, but she comes into conflict with her devoted mother and sick father. West delivers another shocking slasher which Pearl is a decently crafted film that goes into the backstory of a killer.
West successfully updates his cinematic universe in time. While x was set in 1979 and looked like it was made in that era of 20th century slashers, Pearl is set a century in the past. The visual aesthetic matches this move decades before, with the film offering a Technicolor style along the lines of The Wizard of Oz. The opening credits and title card are a product of this era, allowing for a stark contrast from the style xwhich made full use of the 70s pornographic premise.
This film begins with a Disney-style opening with deceptive orchestral music that would almost make you think you are in for an ancient family film. Everything feels happy and whimsical as we are introduced to our young protagonist who dreams of getting away from her farm and becoming an actress in Hollywood. But the film’s sweet, bright eyes don’t last long. You are not sitting down to this origin story to see a happy and heartwarming tale. Once the film takes a dark turn, it commits to it and we get the heart stops the film promises.
But this film’s main risk is not focusing very much on the killings. While they are there, Pearl is much more of a family melodrama that takes a shocking twist. Sometimes it feels like the viewing experience would be better if you weren’t expecting any killing at all, so when it does happen it’s a shock. The film draws a lot of drama out of Pearl’s relationship with her family. She has a strict, disapproving mother named Ruth (Tandi Wright), with whom she shares a lot of tension as they both have to look after Pearl’s father (Matthew Sunderland).
The film uses family drama as much as possible while sometimes feeling a bit conventional and familiar in how it tells that story. The family dynamic doesn’t offer much originality, but they do an excellent job of filling in some gaps in Pearl’s backstory. There is a nod x, but the film tells its own story and knows how to address its audience. This is more of a drama with slasher elements, but this can sometimes hurt the film as it is not as gripping, thrilling or exciting as x was due to their different ambitions.
But the selling point here is Mia Goth. She did an excellent job with her dual role as Max and Pearl in x, so much so that I didn’t know the same person was playing them. This time around, Goth gets free reign as an inept killer as she nails her emotional scenes. She delivers a long monologue in one take, and her co-writing credit on this film shows her creative influence and passion for bringing this project to life. She is the selling point of this film, especially in Pearl‘s eerie final shot.
Overall, West is not delivering like he did with x, but he manages to do a lot. This film was written during the production of his predecessor and he has already planned another film in this series called MaXXXineset in 1985. But before we get there, it’s worth it for x fans to check out this prequel with a lot of dark ideas – many of which are executed excellently. Between the two films, this is the one you’ll be less likely to revisit, but it serves as a decent prequel.
Like ComingSoon’s audit policy explains, a score of 6 corresponds to “Decent”. It fails to reach its full potential and is a thorough experience.
Disclosure: The critic attended a press screening for ComingSoon’s Pearl review.