Combustible Celluloid Review - Pearl (2022), Mia Goth, Ti West, Ti West, Mia Goth, Tandi Wright, David Corenswet, Emma Jenkins-Purro, Matthew Sunderland, Alistair Sewell
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mia Goth, Tandi Wright, David Corenswet, Emma Jenkins-Purro, Matthew Sunderland, Alistair Sewell
Written by: Mia Goth, Ti West
Directed by: Ti West
MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence, gore, strong sexual content and graphic nudity
Running Time: 102
Date: 09/16/2022

Pearl (2022)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

X to Grind

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ti West's Pearl, the prequel to last Spring's X promises an origin story for the elder Pearl character, and while it may leave off with more questions than answers, it's still a well-crafted gore-fest and a vivid character study.

It's 1918 — some 61 years before the events of X — and young Pearl (Mia Goth) lives on a farm with her strict, stern mother (Tandi Wright) and her ailing father (Matthew Sunderland). Pearl is married, to soldier Howard (Alistair Sewell), and waits for him to return from war. While she waits, Pearl dreams of being a dancer and seeing the world and being adored, but she feels stifled by her mother and her never-ending farm chores.

During her rare trips to town, she steals trips to the picture show to watch dance films. She meets the handsome, carefree projectionist (David Corenswet), who stirs something inside her. Then, she learns from her sister-in-law Mitzy (Emma Jenkins-Purro) about a dance contest at the local church; the winner gets to go on a tour. Pearl pins her every hope on winning the contest. If she doesn't, who knows what madness lurking inside her may burst loose?

Indeed, the film, which was co-written by its star, only suffers when taken together with its predecessor. Since older Pearl appears in the 1979-set story, we know that, no mater what happens in this movie, she will survive. But as the prequel ends, it doesn't really suggest how the sixty years that lie between the movies might be filled, although perhaps that's the point; it's a stifling, decades-long blur of nothing. Still, taken by itself, this is a very good movie, hinging on a powerful and sympathetic performance by Goth. Director West sets up many highly atmospheric shots and striking images, including a vicious rainstorm, a flirtation with a scarecrow, a red dress, a dance number, a gothic dinner table tableau, and a shocker of a tracking shot.

An antique adults-only film and "X" images and references link Pearl to Goth's doppelganger Maxine from the first movie. There are also references to the Spanish flu pandemic of the time, and to people having to wear masks. But the real key to Pearl is Goth's modulated performance, effectively showing the characters wants and needs, and the emotional cracks that form like fault lines when things twist or go awry.

The movie's tour-de-force is a lengthy monologue — with Goth emoting in long, unbroken takes — unloading her innermost thoughts and feelings to Mitzy, tumbling out like boulders in an avalanche. Her transformation into a psychotic killer is no accident, and doesn't happen overnight. It's the product of her environment, as well as her gender, and the time period. To some, those might have been the good ol' days, but to women like Pearl, they were a trap.

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