Pearl: An X-Traordinary Origin Story, is the new prequel to the talented horror
director, Ti West’s, popular psychological slasher film, X. Both films in the
series have style to spare, but whereas X is shot like a low budget seventies
horror film from the Texas Chainsaw massacre era, Pearl: An X-Traordinary Origin
Story is beautifully film shot as if it were made in the golden age of Hollywood
and it makes use of Technicolor. A third film called MaXXXine in the trilogy
which tells what happened after X is scheduled to come out in 2023, and the film
is previewed during the closing credits of Pearl. All these films were or will
be distributed by A23, a marvelous mostly low budget company that has put out
such cinematic winners as
Room, Spring Breakers, The Witch and Minari. So far A23 films have earned 25 Oscar nominations.
Pearl has gotten a tremendous amount of praise for a little Indy film shot for
around a million dollars and after seeing this, Martin Scorsese himself said: "Ti
West's movies have a kind of energy that is so rare these days, powered by a
pure, undiluted love for cinema. You feel it in every frame. West and his muse
and creative partner Mia Goth really know how to toy with their audience ...
before they plunge the knife into our chests and start twisting.”
American Mary, and May, this film is a cinematic portrait of a
mentally unstable person whose situation is so terrible and daily life is so
demoralizing that it almost justifies her or him engaging in extreme homicidal
Pearl plays like a cross between an old Douglas Sirk melodrama (partially
because of its use of extreme highly saturated color in the frames) with a
traditional slasher horror film, and like
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Nope, it is packed with allusions to previous films including Texas Chainsaw
Massacre (it draws its gruesome dinner scene involving corpses from that film)
X., Wizard of Oz (which I will get to later) , and Mary Poppins (which inspired
the look of Pearl, particularly the dress of the main character.) In addition,
Pearl has some elements drawn from Disney films.
Mia Goth (you might remember her from Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Part 1) is
astonishingly good in the lead role and the best reason to see the film. She
brings a fragile sensitivity and off the wall intensity to the role of Pearl, a
younger version of one of the characters that she portrayed in the film about a
porn film within a slasher film, X. She is a terminally nice, giddy and
seemingly innocent young woman with hidden anger who gives the impression that
inwardly she is like a volcano that could erupt at any minute.
The film is set in 1918 and Pearl is a trapped and abused young woman who has
basically given up her life to do her mom’s bidding. Her severe German mom
(played by Tandi Wright) is psychologically suffocating her daughter and tries
to discourage any dreams she might have. Pearl’s situation is terrible, and she
must constantly take care of her invalid dad and her husband has gone off to the
fight in the army. The only escapes she has is occasionally dancing around the
barn and imagining she is in a musical, talking to animals (like Snow White), or
sneaking out to see motion pictures at the local theatre. She strikes up a
friendship with the projectionist who is a potential love interest who considers
himself to be a bohemian and encourages her to leave the farm. In one of their
meetings, he shows her some porn, and he seems to be grooming her for a future
career as an adult star, but even the porn world might be a step up from the
pitiable life she has on the farm.
The many cinematic Wizard of Oz homage's include Wild at Heart,
and now Pearl with a plot that is basically an inversion of that film. Like
Dorothy the title character escapes her drab life on a farm in a world built on
fantasy and Hollywood is her equivalent to Oz. Also, her mom who never wants her
to leave seems to be this film’s equivalent of the evil witch (the actress even
looks like Margaret Hamilton) and at one point Pearl even throws water at her.
Whereas the bubbly, blonde sister-in-law who encourages her to leave the farm is
like the good witch. The big difference is that whereas Dorothy wants to get
back home, Pearl will do anything to escape it.
There are some warnings that Pearl is not exactly the normal. all American girl
next door girl that she appears to be. When a good-natured duck interrupts her
family, she commits a shockingly violent act, and the local alligator gets an
early supper. Also, there is a scarecrow in the film, and she is so desperate,
sexually frustrated and lonely that at one point she even makes out with it.
Pearl dreams of winning a big dance contest and getting discovered so that she
can move to Hollywood and escape her life of drudgery and despair. The biggest
impediment might be that her lovely sister-in-law who has more conventional good
looks (a double for Glinda the Good Witch) is also competing in the show. But she is
basing all of her future hopes on the contest as a vehicle for escape and you
get the idea that if this does not happen there will be hell to pay.
The film also creatively effectively Incorporated the mask wearing of the actors
during the pandemic because we are told that people fear the Spanish flu
disease which was going around when the film takes place and some people wear
the masks or proclaim, “I don’t have the bug.”
There is little suspense in the film, and since it is a prequel, we know right
away that Pearl is a budding serial killer that will end up in a bad place.
Still, this film is worth experiencing for its gorgeous retro cinematography and
the audacity and effectiveness of the often-brilliant Mia Goth’s lead
performance (Hers is a name to watch). Pearl is a horror gem that will make for
perfect Halloween viewing.