‘Pearl’ Movie Review: Ti West and Mia Goth’s Unholy Prequel

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Venice: West and Goth come together to tell the bloody story behind their “X’s” killer early years, diminishing both the original and this prequel in the process.

Well it was definitely a economic choice. When Ti West made his return to horror cinema with this spring’s ‘X’ – a gritty, gritty porn slasher that leaned into its 70s vibe – the director behind such indie horror gems as “ The House of the Devil” and “The Innkeepers” didn’t skimp on blood and guts, offering too much to (literally!) fill a single film. As ‘X’ boasted an eclectic and thrilling cast, featuring everyone from Jenna Ortega and Brittany Snow to Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi and Martin Henderson, eagle-eyed audience members got it. her real casting turn early on: Mia Goth in a delightfully dark noir pair of different roles, including a particularly murderous one that buried her under masses of age-old makeup.

Two for the price of one? Talk about independent ingenuity. But West went even further, not only casting a remarkable Goth in two roles, but two whole movies. Unfortunately, one is far better than the other, and as West and Goth attempt to reverse the bloody history of a psychopathic killer, they diminish both “X” and “Pearl” in the process.

Shortly after the SXSW movie premiered, West and Goth revealed that while doing “X” in New Zealand during the early days of the COVID-19 quarantine, they had too did a prequel to “X” that focused on the origin story of older Goth character Pearl. If ‘X’ is West’s love letter to ’70s exploitation films and indie porn, ‘Pearl’ is an unholy ode to Technicolor fairy tales and the corrosive power of Hollywood, even in its first incarnation. . Set in 1918 – towards the end of World War I and in the midst of the Spanish flu epidemic that infected a third of the world’s population – “Pearl” tries to fill in the gaps in Pearl’s backstory, a pretty compelling idea that’s soon at the mercy of a rickety script that’s both indebted to “X” and determined to be its own thing.

We open onto an idyllic Texas farmhouse, bright Technicolor, blazing with color and promise. It’s a far cry from the grim location of “X”, a dusty wasteland in which nothing but resentment seemed to grow. Pearl, last seen (spoilers for “X” ahead, though no one should read “Pearl” without seeing its predecessor) splintered and broken and broken outside her house of horrors, in the care of last daughter Maxine ( also, of course, Goth), has become young and fresh again, full of hope in a world that we already know won’t fulfill any of her dreams.

Before young Pearl has finished wandering around her room in a pretty dress, the lights go out (literally and metaphorically) and we’re suddenly thrust into the reality of her being: she’s stuck on a farm. tough, her husband serves his country somewhere hellish, and his only company is his stern German mother (Tandi Wright) and crippled father (Matthew Sunderland). As we learned in “X”, young Pearl dreamed of stardom – a big movie buff, she was convinced she was destined to be in the limelight, determined to somehow penetrate another in Hollywood through her dancing, which we’re never quite sure is very good or not — but “Pearl” shows just how out of reach that dream truly is.

But what has been within reach of the mad-eyed farmer’s wife? Less explored than her dreams of stardom (but far more interesting) is Pearl’s growing realization that she might be losing her grip on reality, or at least not experiencing reality like other people. Indeed, she is different, but not the kicky one, fun a little different. Unease blossoms in the film’s first act, though much of it is due to West relying too heavily on winks and nods to “X”, dwelling on places and things. spaces (the driveway, the steps, the basement) that served as killing fields in the first movie and vigorously ogling weapons (the movie’s wooden ax practically deserves the top spot) that, decades later, will kill so many “X” stars.

But what about the stars and history of “Pearl”? If the film’s first act is bound to remind its audience of what they loved about “X”, its last act zooms in too far to remind anyone why they liked the first film and why they might like this second. West has indicated that he’s already hard at work on a third entry in the series, one that would be inspired by another cinematic era and likely iron out the many loose ends left over from “Pearl,” and he’s got some bread. on Plate. for him. It’s a classic prequel problem, as West attempts to balance the old with the new and fails at both ends.

At least there’s the film’s second act, which marries the dueling wits of the rest of the feature, finding something dizzyingly dark and dirty in the process. Pearl loves nothing more than going to the movies, and when a handsome projectionist (David Corenswet) catches her eye and invites her to come back to the movies whenever she wants, it triggers many events and emotions that will change her. for ever. We learn little about The Projectionist – hell, not even his name, he’s just listed by his profession in the film’s credits – beyond his fondness for dirty movies and the pride he feels in to be a so-called “bohemian”. It will make an excellent mark.

Not that Pearl even knows that’s what she’s after, as Goth guides her through the beat of completely cracking up with crackling ease. Goth is fully committed to Pearl — both in “X” and this new prequel (the actress also has a screenwriting credit on “Pearl,” her first) — and if anything keeps this prequel shaky even remotely on track is the full force of Goth dedication to the game.

But while she is undoubtedly an extraordinary performer, her talent often goes unchecked in film. For every scene where she turns around and burns across the screen, there’s a fussy, over-the-top corollary following her heels. Nothing is as impressive as Pearl’s jaw-dropping reaction to a crucial dance audition, a raw, unfiltered sequence of truly bonkers proportions, but soon enough West and Goth get bogged down in a laborious one-take sequence that comes back mainly to “Goth goes crazy, then goes crazy again and again and again.

It’s an impressive cinematic feat, but one that reveals nothing new, a major misstep for a film seemingly dedicated to doing just that. What’s the point of a prequel? We already know everything we need to know about Pearl, but somehow it feels less satisfying than we last left it, broken, bloody, and crushed, but at least entirely original. .

Grade: C+

“Pearl” premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival. A24 will release the film in theaters on Friday, September 16.

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