Decades before attacking a porn crew, young Pearl dreams
of becoming a star, no matter who she has to kill to get there.
Directed by Ti West
Written by Ti West and Mia Goth
Starring Mia Goth, Tandi Wright, David Corenswet,
Matthew Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro, Alistair Sewell
Prequel to 2022's X
Ti West has revealed himself to be ambitious, creative, and pretty fearless when it comes to his art. X was a sleeper hit and a memorable horror movie that combined the dirty aesthetic of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with the porn-tastic sunshine of Boogie Nights. I don't think anyone expected a trilogy to emerge from it, especially a trilogy that will be released all in the same year. First came X, then this unhinged prequel Pearl, and the epic 80's conclusion MaXXXine later this year. Good for him. This middle installment tells the story of the first film's primary villain, Pearl, and how she went from starry-eyed dreamer to cold-blooded killer while never losing sight of her dream: To be a star.
In 1918, Pearl (Goth, who delivers arguably the finest performance of the year thus far, genre be damned) is the only daughter of German immigrant farmers in Texas. Her father (Sunderland) is catatonic, and her mother (Wright) is resentful of her life and takes it out on Pearl, constantly crushing her dreams. Pearl recognizes that she isn't well; that there's something dark inside her struggling to break free. She quells it by killing small animals, but once her dreams start falling apart, she starts killing people. It's a slow burn that turns into a slasher flick about halfway, but that's exactly what X was, so it didn't bother me. Mia Goth's performance keeps you invested the whole time.
Once the film takes that anticipated left turn, the carnage does not cease. You find yourself conflicted when it comes to Pearl. You're rooting for her to succeed, but you're horrified when she starts slaughtering her friends and family. Ultimately, it provides some context as to why Pearl goes after the pornographers in X. Jealously, rage, projection, all of it stems from a young woman with a potent sex drive trapped in a society that condemns sexuality, particularly in women, as sinful. That'll drive anyone to murder.