‘Pearl’ Movie Attempts to Impress, But Putters Out

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Behold, an educational lesson on the difference between properly organizing how to make a motion picture and spontaneously filming a whole movie on the fly. Getting into Halloween-time a couple of weeks early, A24 Films releases Ti West’s Pearl, a follow-up to West’s retro horror X, which was one of my unexpected favorites from this past spring.

As has been reported, West and lead actress Mia Goth conceived this new prequel while the pair were collaborating on X and filmed Pearl right as the former was wrapping; hence the release dates being only six months apart. While fun in theory, Pearl’s execution actually shows why we need things like rough drafts, edits and pre-production for a movie to be good.

Just like how X felt like an homage to both Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997), Pearl is like a mash-up of Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Brian de Palma’s Carrie (1976). Goth returns as the female lead, this time as X’s villain, Pearl, in her younger years. Since Pearl and X were shot back-to-back, we recognize a lot of the same locations and props from before, particularly the house and barn where Pearl lives. 

‘Pearl’ Off To A Promising Start

Here, it’s 1918 in Houston, TX, and Pearl is back home with her parents while her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) is away serving in WWI. Pearl dreams of becoming a chorus girl for the stage and the newly developed film industry while she helps care for her ailing father (Matthew Sunderland) and the barn animals.

Things begin to look up when a local movie theater projectionist (David Corenswet) and Pearl’s sister-in-law, Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Purro), both have offers for possible performing gigs; until things turn very ugly when Pearl’s mother (Tandi Wright) finds out about her daughter’s dancing prospects.

pearl movie

Despite the farm setting and silent film era, West and cinematographer Eliot Rockett chose to lavish Pearl with vibrant Technicolor-esque schemes and filters, along the lines of Robert Stevenson’s Mary Poppins (1964). The whole early 20th century period is generally fascinating to me, so I enjoyed a lot of the vibe and atmosphere at the beginning of the movie.

A few parts – such as a scene with Pearl and an alligator from a nearby lake, or another scene involving Pearl and a scarecrow – have some intentional, self-aware comic relief that’s amusing. Goth also shows off her acting chops nicely with a long, one-shot monologue near the end of the movie. 

‘Pearl’ Feels Undone 

One difference between X and Pearl is that I went into the previous movie with no expectations or knowledge of the characters, so I was able to enjoy how fresh and clever the movie used popular horror tropes. With Pearl, the over-the-top gore and other references to remind us of the X universe [including Pearl and the projectionist watching a vintage porno] instantly took me out of the story and made me actually wish the movie was completely original and subtler.

Pearl’s characterization is also a bit muddled, probably because of the quick script writing from West and Goth. The protagonist is married, yet her mother still treats her like a child by grounding her and forbidding activities as punishment.

She could be a teen bride, which was common a century ago, but we never get that confirmation, and Goth looks her 28 years of age. Along with the Spanish Flu jarringly featured as a metaphor to COVID-19 throughout the film, Pearl is unfortunately a step back, personally. But since this trilogy is currently one out of two for me, I still might be interested in seeing how MaxXxine turns out next year.


Did you enjoy ‘Pearl’ or its predecessor ‘X’? Are you interested in seeing a third film with Ti West and Mia Goth? Let us know in the comments!

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