Pearl is Ti West’s origin story of the now famous villain of the hit early 2022 slasher film X. This villain, Pearl, was the subject of much conversation and speculation about her beginnings when X premiered in March 2022. However, we now finally get to see what brought this character to her breaking point. The first installment to Ti West’s growing narrative was more of an homage to 70s slasher flicks, but it also introduced audiences to his vision that combines a classic aesthetic with original storytelling.
Pearl takes things to a level audiences have never seen before and is quite ambitious. It represents the fantastical elements that made films like The Wizard of Oz so unique, but also psychological thrills in the same way as a similar origin story film, Joker. West’s recent movie centers on Pearl (Mia Goth) and her secluded life on a farm in 1918. She begins to psychologically derail and show the world what she is truly capable of. Ti West and co-screenwriter Mia Goth did this world justice by seamlessly blending the two films together while also leaving speculation for what might be to come next.
Pearl: A Period Piece
Just like X, which took place in the 1970s, Pearl is very much a period piece. With a setting like 1918, we get to see how the main character deals with elements that plagued the world around her at that time. The way the opening credits play out and the choices in the score and soundtrack establishes a classical horror presentation we have not seen on film in a while.
World War I, Spanish Flu and the rise of motion pictures are crucial factors that affect Pearl’s boiling point. Pearl is bound to her home with an emotionally abusive mother (Tandi Wright) and sickened father (Matthew Sunderland). Pearl’s mother, Ruth, forces her to live within their four walls and forbids her to even discuss going into the outside world that is moving into the future without her.
One of the elements in this film that connects it to its previous is the motion picture industry, from silent movies to adult films. There is a sequence where theater projectionist (David Corenswet) shows Pearl a film that no one has seen before. He shows her an adult film, and she becomes mesmerized by its rawness and animalistic style. He tells Pearl that this is the future of motion pictures. In the early days of 1918, a film like the one Pearl witnessed would be kept hidden from the public eye. However, she sees the return of this industry come knocking at her door in X when the group of filmmakers wants to make an adult film on her property. Pearl just wanted to be loved, and to be able to share her talents on the screen in any way she could, but there was always a darkness within her that connected both of her roles together.
Mia Goth as Pearl and Maxine
In X, Maxine wanted to break through to stardom and the only avenue to do that was in the adult entertainment medium. The 1970s saw a boom in this type of entertainment and it was more accessible than before. There lies her chance to be seen and beloved by viewers. However, there is a line within the film that connects her character Maxine to her character Pearl, which is made much more prevalent when seeing both films back-to-back.
Maxine: “I will not accept a life I do not deserve.”
This line is stated multiple times throughout X. However, it is just as important when seeing Pearl’s breakdown. She is trapped on a farm having to deal with the same routines over and over again. We see bits of glimmer when she dances in the barn in front of her livestock audience. She dances and imagines a romantic connection with a scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield. She also grows infatuated by motion pictures which she must watch in secrecy from her mother. Pearl sees opportunities to break through and escape a life she does not deserve… or does she?
From the very beginning of the film, Pearl is unhinged. She murders a duck in the first act of the film in a shocking sequence. She tells the projectionist that she wishes that her parents would die so she could finally get out. While often restraining herself from her real thoughts, was this darkness in Pearl all along? Perhaps, her mother was shielding the world from the monster that lies deep within Pearl. In a shocking and intense argument, Pearl’s mother even tells her daughter that she saw all that she has done in privacy and is scared of her.
Mia Goth’s performance as Pearl is one of the best characterizations in horror this year, if not in decades. She shows glimmers of sunshine whilst frolicking through the barn and in imaginary sequences whilst on stage. Her smile is warm and inviting, but also hiding something. Pearl in X is completely unhinged and is terrifying from the start.
However, to see her as this girl just trying to get out of an emotionally draining household makes her a tragic character. She ventures closer to brutality, and admits to liking the feeling of killing in a near seven-minute monologue. But what ties her elder character together with her younger self is that loss of hope. Pearl’s hope died when she did not land the audition and was told she was not good enough, validating her mother’s sneers.
Ti West’s Direction
Ti West has evolved as a director in just two films being released miraculously in the same year. Pearl, just like West’s masterful X, features long sequences of anxiety and tension. But also beautiful sequences with sophisticated camera movements and transitions. He allows his characters to be in the moment and let the audience absorb their expressions. Pearl could have been made in the early days of cinema, just as X could have been made in the 70s. The soundtrack to his latest film is orchestral and plays upon the action quite well. However, the beautiful use of colorization makes all images on the screen pop, even those reds.
Just like X, this film is gorgeously shot, edited and photographed. Cinematographer Elliot Rockett worked on both films in West’s storyline and gave each their own aesthetic mirroring the time period it takes place in.
Questions and Speculation About Pearl
With this storyline expanding, more questions are coming up. At the end of X, audiences asked what could have led Pearl to such a violent and evil way of life, and if she was always in that frame of mind. After viewing Pearl, audiences have that same question… but not of Pearl. Her husband, Howard, was an accomplice and a part of the malevolence in West’s first film X.
However, Howard is overseas in this latest film and comes home to find the aftermath of Pearl’s disasters. He sees her smiling in a disturbingly elongated take. What could have drawn him to stay with her? Did she tell him all that happened and that she did in fact cheat on him just once? Perhaps, from the very beginning, he was trying to shield the world from her just as her parents did.
Ti West is continuing the story with a sequel to X entitled MaXXXine, which is set to follow the protagonist of the first film after the massacre on Pearl’s property. According to the newly released trailer, it will be set in 1980s Hollywood. The film is currently in production and no release date is confirmed.