Pearl (2022)

Most sequels and prequels rely too much on the movie that they gestate from. Yet Ti West’s Pearl does what seems to be impossible: it takes a movie I really liked, X, and makes me love it. Together, these movies become so much more than the sum of their parts, creating a reflection in the same way the letter that informs them, that denotes pornography, that crosses out the violence on your old TV screen, bifurcating your mind and giving you so much more than you expected.

Back in 1918, during a very different pandemic, Pearl (Mia Goth) is trapped in Texas while her husband Howard fights in World War I. Her father is a shell of a human being, paralyzed and unable to even communicate, while her mother Ruth (Tandi Wright) keeps her on the farm, taking care of the dying man and the crops and serving as her whipping girl. Pearl dreams of a life far from here, of being special, of performing and oh yes, she may also be deranged.

Pearl dreams of more than just being in movies; as she watches them, she’s inspired to be more. She imagines the scarecrow in the cornfield is the projectionist (David Corenswet) who gives her attention. She makes love to it in a way that she never has with her husband. That same projectionist shows her A Free Ride, considered to be the first American hardcore movie, and that night, after she sets her mother on fire and leaves her to die from her burns, she makes love to that man.

There’s an audition for dancers for a traveling show and Pearl must be in that show. By now, she’s already pitchforked that projectionist, her mother and father, all acts that she confesses to her sister-in-law Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Purro).

For nearly eight minutes, Goth breaks the film, explaining who she is and what she’s been through; a husband who has basically abandoned her, the joy she had when his child inside her died and how much she enjoys killing things. It’s astounding, a moment that takes this movie away from basic slasher into psychobiddy — and I say that with sheer delight and absolute kindness — territory.

How heartbreaking then that Howard arrives the next morning to discover his wife serving a maggot-filled pig to her dead parents, holding a smile that goes through the entire credits and dissolves into tears?

West, the director and writer, had worked on this with Goth as a backstory for her character but after dealing with COVID-19 filmmaking, he decided to keep working and make the prequel as soon as the filming of X wrapped, saying “I came out of quarantine and I was like, “We’re already building all of this stuff, it’s COVID and we’re on the one place on Earth where it’s safe to make a movie.””

He saw this film as being a combination of a Douglas Sirk film, Mary PoppinsThe Wizard of Oz and a “demented Disney” film, while the film combined Mario Bava with, obviously, Tobe Hooper.

Both films show how Hollywood has influenced people for better or, well, let’s be honest — worse.

This isn’t the end, as Maxine will continue in MaXXXine. West says, “I’m trying to build a world out of all this, like people do these days. You can’t make a slasher movie without a bunch of sequels.”

Art by Shawn Mansfield.

I often despise any of the films of today, the ones I’m told that I must see. But since House of the Devil, I’ve been on board with West. It’s not always perfect, but I can say that he definitely makes movies that I in no way expect. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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