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Pearl is a gory and glamorous masterpiece

With a killer performance and a clear vision, Ti West's prequel film Pearl is the must-see horror of the year.

Let me preface this review by saying that in order to enjoy Pearl, you do not need to watch X. But, you should – because like this blood-soaked and baudy flick, it’s fantastic.

Haven’t seen the first film of the X trilogy? Read this ScreenHub article first.

If you’ve ever spent hours waiting in line for a cattle-call audition, rehearsing your lines/notes/dance moves over and over again, you’ll know that it’s a special kind of terror. Once you’re in that waiting room, you become a nervous speck among hundreds, if not thousands, of other hopefuls, trying not to pin your entire self worth on the audition’s outcome.

Ti West’s Pearl encapsulates this feeling oh so well, for our title character (played by the excellent Mia Goth) wants nothing more than to become famous – and there is no plan B.

There’s a few things holding Ms. Pearl back from achieving her dream, though: the primary thing being that she is forced to live on a farm and take care of her ailing parents, all while WWI and the Influenza severely limit her career opportunities. Her husband is away at War, and her father is completely mute and unable to feed himself.

Oh, and she is most certainly, without doubt, a murderous psychopath. Tee-hee.

Now, I didn’t expect any element of this over-the-top, period-piece slasher to be relatable to the modern movie-goer. I was however proven wrong when Pearl donned a cloth mask to ride into town and carefully avoided all the coughing people to go and see a film. It may be set in 1918, but everything about this sequence was carefully done to evoke familiarity and an underlying sense of dread. She’s been in a pandemic lockdown for ages! No wonder she’s a few geese short of a gaggle.

Poor Mr Goose πŸ™ . Image: A24/Madman

I wouldn’t say that this is West’s way of equating poor mental health with dubious morals, however. There’s been plenty of that tired trope in the horror movies of yesteryear, and the world is more than ready to move on. I think it’s a well-deployed narrative tool that makes us even more sympathetic to the character of Pearl, who, even by the end of her slicing, burning, choking and dicing rampage, will elicit a pitying response.

What’s even more interesting is that isn’t a paint-by-numbers origin story that shows the villain’s descent into madness over some incident like ‘villain’s wife/husband/child dies’ – in fact, it’s made crystal clear that Pearl always had killer tendencies. She was simply born that way: irreparable and irredeemable. She’s a Wicked Witch who fancies herself a Dorothy (the Wizard of Oz references are many) and she’s desperate to prove her leading lady qualities to the world.

Pearl and Mitsy. Image: A24/Madman

Mia Goth fully commits every drop of her blood, sweat, tears, AND snot to the role – and rewards our endurance through the gore with one of the most riveting performances of the year. The dance audition is a damn delight, as is Pearl’s unhinged monologue to her sister-in-law, Mitsy. It’s just a shame that Mitsy, played by newcomer Emma Jenkins-Purro, has what I like to call resting iPhone face. That girl desperately wants to Tweet, I know it.

Every choice in this film, from the ‘Xs’ seen everywhere in the set and art decoration, to the overly bright blood that gushes from gaping wounds, reminds you that you are watching a movie. This tracks with the first entry in the series, X, as both films are about the search for the elusive ‘X factor’ (whatever that means). Pearl’s obsession with silent films and the projectionist that runs them is also in line with this, and they are also a reminder that her world is two steps away from reality.

Pearl lives in a fantasy, a dream where actions don’t have real consequences … so, the second it comes crashing down is the second she snaps. It’s shocking to watch, but you won’t be able to look away.

Pearl is in cinemas now.

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5 out of 5 stars

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Silvi Vann-Wall is a journalist, podcaster, and filmmaker. They joined ScreenHub as Film Content Lead in 2022. Twitter: @SilviReports