“Pearl” is a Twisted Delight

Written by Hayden Claborn, Entertainment Reviewer

Mia Goth in Pearl
Mia Goth in Pearl. Credit: A24

Ti West’s Pearl, the prequel to his film X (my review here), combines two of my favorite things: horror movies and Judy Garland. Imagine if Dorothy Gale never left her Kansas farm and went a little crazy– that’s what you get in Pearl. The film distorts classic Hollywood through a fun house mirror, resulting in a film that is both a sick joke and an earnest melodrama. 

Mia Goth reprises her role as Pearl, the elderly lady from X. It’s 1918; fear of the Spanish flu is running wild and her husband Howard is away fighting in World War I. Despite living on a farm with her German immigrant mother Ruth (Tandi Wright) and infirmed and paralyzed Father (Matthew Sunderland), Pearl dreams of being a chorus girl in a silent film. These fantasies are fueled by the Projectionist (David Corenswet) in town who becomes a potential lover. 

What I adore about Pearl is the craftsmanship– it’s a handsomely made picture. West and cinematographer Eliot Rockett exchange the grimy aesthetic of X for a more distinct, technicolor look while retaining a sense of melancholy. The camerawork is more granular and classical with a few cases of brilliantly sweeping motion. 

I particularly love the costume design by Malgosia Turzanska. Going back to the Judy Garland influence, Turzanska dresses Goth up similar to Garland’s character from 1950’s Summer Stock with a cute pair of blue overalls. Pearl’s costume provides a look into her consciousness; a seemingly all-American farm girl who’s psyche has been fundamentally broken and is straining herself to appear happy. 

But I must speak of Mia Goth, who also co-wrote the film with West. Ever since I saw her in the beautifully-shot but otherwise dull A Cure for Wellness, I’ve always been impressed by her presence. Not every performer can hold an audience’s attention like her. Goth’s performance as Pearl is campy in the best way possible. The screen isn’t big enough for the emotions she expresses. Twice in the film the camera stays on her face for an extended period of time and both instances moved me. In the middle of this freak show, Goth is able to convey a deep sense of sadness. It’s a chaotic and wonderful piece of acting. 

Pearl continues the thread of pornography from X. The Projectionist shows her a smuggled film print of A Free Ride, one of the earliest known instances of pornographic film or known as “Stag Films.” It comes across as the most shoehorned element of the film, not really weaved into the journey of Pearl’s character outside of a brief mention that adult films are better suited for capturing reality, something that Pearl wants to escape from. What’s more present is the sense of Pearl’s sexuality, which is conveyed during several sexual outbursts. 

A24 and Ti West have already announced a third installment of the trilogy titled MaXXXine, following the exploits of Maxine from X, also played by Mia Goth. So far, West has created a fascinating series of films that are some of the most unique around. 

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