“I’m gonna be a star. One day everyone’s gonna know my name…” It’s a line that anyone who’s seen last year’s horror hit X will remember – the same line repeated by Mia Goth across two incredible films and three stand-out roles. First playing a wannabe porn star in Ti West’s ’70s-set art house slasher, as well as the elderly serial killer who stabs a rake through all of her friends, Goth returns here in the film’s prequel as the younger version of the same murderer.
Pearl opens on that same creepy barn from X, in the same field. Shot in glorious Technicolor with a loving eye for classic cinema setups, West’s new film nods to the early days of Hollywood while swinging an axe through all of its touchpoints. If this is The Wizard Of Oz, Pearl is what happens to Dorothy when she doesn’t get to leave the farm. Half an hour in, she’s fucking the scarecrow…
This is 1918, and the Spanish Flu epidemic is forcing everyone behind a face mask as the world lives out the last brutal days of WW1. For Texas girl Pearl (Goth), the last few years have felt like prison. Newly wed to a man she barely knew before he shipped out to Europe, Pearl spends her days stuck in a remote farmhouse with her puritanical mother (Tandi Wright) and her paralysed father (Matthew Sunderland). Dreaming of making it big on Broadway, Pearl practises her chorus line moves in secret for fear her terrifying mother might find out that she wants to leave.
However cruel her mum might seem, there’s something in the bright, bubbly Pearl that seems worse – a buried darkness that finds her slightly too quick to temper; slightly too turned on by the idea of hurting things. Sex, death, cinema and crushed dreams all swirl in a similar direction to X, but the result feels thrillingly different here. Less a horror than an occasionally bloodthirsty character portrait, West dances us through the mind of a serial killer with a visual flair that soars on the big screen.
And then there’s Goth. Somehow delivering even more of a tour de force here than she did when she was playing two characters at once in her last film, Goth dazzles in a lead role she’s already played once under a few pounds of wrinkly latex. Mixing comedy and tragedy with an edge of something genuinely unsettling (as well as nailing an uncut six-minute monologue, and even more unforgettable final shot), Goth’s Oscar snub feels like horror’s biggest slap in the face yet.
With West now working on the ’80s set sequel, MaXXXine (bringing the story into the video nasty era, and giving Goth another crack at the other character she left behind), the unfinished X trilogy is already shaping up to be very special indeed.
- Director: Ti West
- Starring: Mia Goth, Tandi Wright, David Corenswet
- Release date: March 17 (in cinemas)