Movie Review: ‘Pearl’ can change the game for horror

Anabel Martinez
Managing Editor

A24 seems to be kicking off a new horror franchise with their newest “Pearl,” a prequel to the slasher film “X,” released earlier this year, both written and directed by Ti West. 

“Pearl,” starring Mia Goth, follows the backstory of a girl in 1918 whose desire to leave her isolated farm life to become a dancer is so strong that she’s willing to kill anyone who gets in her way. 

We first meet Pearl in the 1970s in “X” as a murderous old woman who envies the youth and stardom of young adults filming a porn film on her and her husband’s property. 

In the vibrant Technicolor horror “Pearl,” we get to know her as she lives on a farm with her parents while her husband Howard is away fighting World War I. Pearl longs for her husband and for the day he can take her away from her controlling mother and disabled father.   

“Pearl” follows the theme of decay in both figurative and literal ways. She doesn’t want to waste her youth and rot her life away like her parents and the bodies of her dead victims.

“X” fans will notice lots of references in this prequel as it is set on the same farm, like the eerie alligator and black car found in the lake, which the audience will find out how it ended up there in this new movie. 

Pearl has already become a new favorite horror icon of mine. She is intense, violent, and unhinged, all the while being difficult to not love.

The most enticing thing about the film is how true it is to the 1920s, not just the costume and production design but the cinematography and editing techniques. Watching “Pearl” feels like watching a movie shot in the classic old Hollywood style, except on modern-day cameras and in color.

It strays away from the typical jumpscares and over-the-top violence, making it less traditionally “scary.” But it makes your skin crawl in other ways.

Rather than give close-ups of Pearl killing another victim, the camera pans away from the gory action and instead forces the audience to listen to the agonizing sound of struggle and death – a technique used in earlier years of filmmaking. 

For those expecting more gore, “Pearl” delivers enough of that later throughout the film.

Another chilling thing about this movie is the reference to the influenza pandemic. Though set more than a century ago, the all too familiar feeling of sickness was disturbing. The entire movie feels like a fever dream.

Goth gives an astounding performance, culminating with a six-minute monologue confessing the murder of her victims and the raging anger she feels. 

The monologue is all shot in one take, something we don’t often see in modern-day movies, with heavy tears running down Pearl’s dark, distraught eyes. It is uncomfortable but so difficult to peel your eyes off the screen.

Odd to say, but “Pearl” can be compared to “The Wizard of Oz,” if Dorothy skipped around with a knife in hand rather than a basket – visually beautiful with an off-putting aspect. 

“Pearl” is like nothing in today’s theaters. Though some moments felt slow, the attention to detail and creative concept made up for it.

Many horror fans like myself anticipate West and the “X” series to continue to change the game for the horror genre.

Although extremely uncomfortable and almost claustrophobic, don’t let the rolling end credits let you pack up your stuff and exit the theater just yet. Stick around to see a tiny preview of A24’s upcoming addition to the “X” universe, “MaXXXine,” set to release early next year. 

Anabel Martinez can be reached at anabel.martinez2@laverne.edu.

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Anabel Martinez is a senior digital media major with a concentration in film and television, and a journalism minor. She serves as the managing editor overseeing all of the Campus Times sections and was previously editor-in-chief in Spring 2022.

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