in Review, Shocktober

Pearl (2022)

On February 14th, 2003 (Valentine’s Day) I saw the immortal classic “Daredevil” starring Ben Affleck on the big screen. I had a good time–only to discover years later that the film was bad–but it was in the film’s closing minutes that I felt my Spidey-sense (or whatever Daredevil has) tingling. My bladder was going to explode! Finally, as the film faded to black and the credits started to roll, I was free! I hightailed it to the bathroom never to look back. This was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

I missed Daredevil’s post-credits scene where it is revealed Bullseye (Colin Farrell) is alive. Gasp! I saw the scene later (it was dumb) but I couldn’t believe my impatience caused me to miss this little nugget. To be fair, this was 2003. You barely ever saw post credits scenes. Today, it’s almost more of a surprise for there to be nothing at the end of a film. Regardless, for years I stayed vigilant sitting through the entire end credits to all my theatrical experiences. But on March 22nd, 2022, my bladder let me down again. I missed the secret surprise trailer to Pearl that played after the end credits of Ti West’s X.

You can’t imagine how pissed I was (not in my pants, thankfully). I loved X. It was one of my favorite theater going experiences of 2022. Talk about a film with personality. That grainy grindhouse look set against dilapidated farmland. X is the best Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel there never was. But the film ends conclusively. No way did I think they could turn this into a franchise and yet they did and even better, they justified that choice with Pearl.

If you haven’t seen X tread lightly from here on out. I wouldn’t say it’s a spoiler-y movie but I’d hate to ruin the experience for first time viewers. I’ll give you a minute to make the call if you wanna continue… Make up your mind? Okay here we go.

So Pearl is the prequel to X. Set 61 years before Pearl’s rampage on her family farm in Texas (making the year 1918), we meet Pearl (Shocktober MVP Mia Goth), as a young woman with stars in her eyes. Pearl dreams of being a dancer and being on the silver screen but feels trapped by her overbearing mother (Tandi Wright) and infirm father (Matthew Sunderland), the latter of which has become wheelchair bound and unable to move or communicate after contracting the Spanish Flu.

One of the best details about Pearl is setting the film around the 1918 influenza pandemic. The film itself was conceived and pitched during a pre-production break on X (due to COVID). So why not include face masks and talks of “the bug” into the narrative of the film? The choice adds another layer of tension for all the characters and even better highlights Pearl’s sense of feeling trapped and scared off by the dangers of the outside world.

But even from the get-go we know Pearl isn’t quite right. Pearl’s mother’s cruel barbs are a part of Pearl’s unraveling but even that aside she is a born sociopath. She acts violently when things don’t go her way, she kills animals with a callous disregard and is a little too comfortable around corpses. I’ll continue to be vague about who dies and how but I can at least give a little more plot synopsis.

With Pearl’s husband off fighting in WWI, a lonely Pearl befriends a Projectionist (David Corenswet) in town and has an affair. She longs for the Projectionist’s Bohemian lifestyle, moving from town to town, but quickly notices him drifting away from her, being unnerved by her clinginess and controlling nature.

There’s also talk of a talent search coming to town. Pearl’s sister-in-law, Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Purro), tells Pearl about a group of talent scouts looking for dancers for a dance troupe that will travel all across the country. If you’ve seen X you can probably guess the outcome here but it’s still engaging to watch Pearl’s life fall to pieces (literally).

Of course, none of this would work as well as it does without Mia Goth. Also, serving as the film’s co-writer, Mia gives an Academy worthy performance. I say that without the slightest tinge of sarcasm. She puts everything she has into this character. She screams, she cries, she gives a nearly unbroken 9-minute monologue to the camera, It’s stunning. Mia was impressive in dual roles in X as Maxine and old Pearl, but here she’s even better. With this performance, Mia Goth has cemented herself as a horror icon.

And now that I’ve talked about Mia, let me say a few things about Ti West. I’m a fan. House of the Devil is one of the best indie horror films of the 2000s, The Innkeepers is a very patient and mature ghost story, but X and Pearl are his best yet.

What I love about Ti West is the time he takes to develop characters. There’s no shortage of bloody kills in his films but he never feels the need to rush into them. He paces his films well and builds lived-in worlds dripping with atmosphere. He never goes for the easy scare or takes any shortcuts. He’s deliberate and calculating and loves his actors. And I’m really glad he’s yet to have fallen into the trap of making blockbuster shlock. Like, I love Adam Wingard and I’m glad he gets to do those King Kong films, but those big budget blockbusters will never be as loved as a film like You’re Next. Hopefully, Ti picks the arthouse over the multiplex.

X and Pearl and soon MaXXXine (didn’t miss the teaser for that one) is the horror trilogy I didn’t know I needed. Each film thus far finds a clever way to pay tribute to the history of film and provides a vehicle for a talented ensemble of actors. I just don’t see how Ti West and Mia Goth could work together and not produce something great… Unless they made a Daredevil movie… Or maybe that’d be great?

She holds this smile over the closing credits. Terrifying.