TIFF ’22: ‘Pearl’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

After watching Ti West’s X in theatres, he surprised audiences with a teaser for the prequel film Pearl. Now, if you haven’t watched X then you might not understand what West is trying to do in this prequel. It’s possible to watch Pearl and then go watch X but the plot twist is not as effective watching it in that order. Pearl (Mia Goth) has had a troubled past and her parents know just how dark her mind is. West set this prequel in 1914 at the height of Spanish influenza and in the middle of wartime. The story is co-written by Goth and is a powerful character piece for her. Goth is incredible in Pearl and will go down in horror history as one of the best murderers.

In this prequel, Pearl is an ambitious starlet who wants to be in the pictures. She is stuck on the farm with her strict mother and sick father, while her husband Howard is off at war. West and cinematographer Eliot Rockett recapture the magic of classic Hollywood with vibrant technicolour and a glossy glow. The film would not be complete without Tyler Bates’ thrilling score that would creep out at the right moments. These aspects are essential to set the tone and create an atmosphere for Pearl to project her personality into the frame. Goth delivers one of the best performances of the year as she shows her range. Pearl wants to be famous more than anything, she wants people to love her and adore her. And as the film goes on, she understands that she is not like the others.

Pearl undergoes an identity crisis. There’s this sad realization that living our dreams comes in different forms and sometimes it doesn’t happen the way we plan it. Pearl’s mother Ruth (Tandi Wright) explains that sometimes you have to work with what you have. The second half of this film has Pearl facing different obstacles as she descends into her madness and ultimately accepts who she truly is. Goth gives an impressive monologue and speaks with sincerity. It’s heartbreaking to watch her fall apart and then watch her rebuild herself within moments of expressing her deepest secrets. Pearl just wanted to break the cycle so she wouldn’t end up like her mother, and she does it more graphically. 

From the moment we meet Pearl we are locked into her world. We fall into her ambition to become a star and stick with her through it all. There is a part of Pearl that many can resonate with and that’s why you will end up rooting for her. Many uncomfortable moments happen throughout but that just adds to the mystery of Pearl. Goth can play both sides incredibly well and the anticipation to see what she does next is what drives this to the end. Pearl is a simple story that shows how life doesn’t go as planned but you learn how to make the best of what you have, even if that means you go a little bit mad. It is a refreshingly original horror picture that will suck you into her world and spit you back out in the end. 

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