In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the First World War came to end. Back in Texas, a little ole country girl named Pearl (Mia Goth), anticipating the return of her soldier husband, prepared a welcome home feast inviting guests who recently bought the farm. Ti West’s prequel to “X” is brimming with nostalgia as it recalls the Golden Age of Hollywood combined with dismembered bodies and decomposing corpses.
Six months ago, writer-director Ti West jumped back into the horror genre after a 10-year absence with the 70s thriller “X” about a group of young adults traveling from Houston to rural Texas to shoot a porn film at a rented cabin located on a farm. There were shades of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in the story, but for me, the film felt more like a tribute to Tobe Hooper’s lesser-known low-budget horror film “Eaten Alive.”
“X” featured Mia Goth in two roles. First, as stripper/ wannabe porn star Maxine Minx and second, as Pearl, the elderly proprietor of the Airbnb-like farm where, along with her husband Howard (played here by Alistair Sewelland), things took a turn for the worse (unless you’re the pet alligator) on that fateful weekend.
“Pearl” turns back time six decades to 1918, just after the end of World War I. Mia Goth, who co-wrote the film, reprises her role as the title character in the origins story that pays tribute to another horror master, Stephen King. There are several moments in the prequel that recall King’s first published novel “Carrie”, thanks to the relationship between our protagonist and her overbearing mother Ruth (Tandi Wright), a German immigrant who keeps her daughter on a tight leash.
The farm is no place for a young lady with big ambitions. By day, Pearl does chores as her mother pulls double-duty overseeing the homestead while her infirm husband (Matthew Sunderland) remains paralyzed, bound to a wheelchair. By night, Pearl prays to the Lord to make her “the biggest star the world has ever known.” She’s ambitious and anxious to leave the rural Texas homestead for life as a Hollywood chorus girl as seen in the silent pictures at the local cinema where she engages in a flirtatious relationship with the handsome projectionist (David Corenswet). He returns the amorous advances by throwing on the world’s first stag film as romance fills the air.
Apart from Eliot Rockett’s vibrant technicolor cinematography and the sweeping orchestral score by Tyler Bates and Tim Williams, both giving “Pearl” an ambiance reminiscent of 50s melodramas, the film begins to resemble those B-Movie drive-in staples of the 70s filled with quirky characters and plenty of gore.
Goth puts her heart and soul into every frame as the unhinged Pearl, whether she’s dry humping a scarecrow or slaughtering the farm animals, it’s a spectacular performance that will be remembered as one of cinema’s most disturbing characters. The brilliant part of the performance is watching the actress navigate various unsettling moments seemingly unaffected by the events transpiring on the screen. It’s just another average day in Pearl’s life as she remains focused on her goal of becoming a star. Anyone who gets in her way better watch out, family, friends, protentional love interests, no one is safe.
Emma Jenkins-Purro delivers a solid performance as Pearl’s only friend, sister-in-law Misty, the two audition for a role as a dancer in a touring show which leads to a fantastical moment as Pearl dances her heart out in a musical number straight out of a Vincente Minnelli musical.
Ti West pulls off a remarkable feat by taking an origins story that would usually end up as a short film in the extras of the home release and stretches it into a full-length feature that keeps the audience engaged thanks to Mia Goth’s obsessive performance. Stay for the end credits as Goth, using only her facial features, demonstrates the definition of deranged.
Now showing in theaters