Pearl (Mia Goth) is the product of inherent insanity, obsessive ambition, and the conditions of her repetitive, dull, and unfair upbringing. Behind her wide eyes and unsettlingly steady voice lies a propensity for violence.
The new movie Pearl, released on Sept. 16, is a study of this vicious character who also terrorizes Ti West’s horror movie X. Pearl is a thought-provoking and eerie prequel to West’s earlier film.
“I want to be loved,” Pearl says.
When she’s not terrifying audiences with her violent tendencies, Pearl’s desperation to escape her abusive mother and unresponsive father provokes sympathy from the audience. Goth carries much of the movie on her shoulders, as she not only plays the protagonist but is also a co-writer of the film.
Pearl grips its audience with a back-and-forth narrative that bounces between Pearl’s insanity and her sympathy-inducing dreams for a better life. Pearl’s aspiration to become a movie star is underscored by her repressive home life and her sense of invisibility to the world.
But Pearl is also very conscious that there is something deeply wrong with her. In a way, Pearl’s self awareness and, sometimes, her remorse humanizes her character. The film carefully crafts this brilliantly complex character that leaves the viewer conflicted about how they should feel about the young, hopeful, murderous Pearl.
Goth’s calculated acting in Pearl is the most compelling aspect of the movie. The actress does not overdo her gestures and naturally brings the character to life. Her wardrobe, youthful face, and neatly styled hair give an innocent look to her character that contrasts with who she really is.
Goth’s long, heartfelt monologues and exaggerated smiles give Pearl distinctive and almost admirable character traits. Even though viewers likely know the future of Pearl’s character from watching X, the film still stands out for its artistic portrayal of insanity and for its carefully written script.
Set on a Texas farm in 1918, the movie resembles The Wizard of Oz with the set’s antique aesthetics. But in this film, Dorothy is replaced with a sadistic, Joker-like villain.
Events unfold in broad daylight, challenging the idea that horror movies must be shot in the dark. Daylight, a numbed color palette, and an upbeat soundtrack make the viewer forget from time to time that it’s a horror movie.
In its unsettling psychological pursuit, the film presents the extreme results—murder, that is—of Pearl’s dissatisfaction with daily life, which is a feeling that any audience member can relate to. The feeling of being trapped in one’s life that Pearl experiences brings the claustrophobic horror of everyday life to the screen.
The film strives to be more than a disturbing horror movie. It is artful in almost every detail and carries through each of the wonderful performances. Pearl’s unique psychological elements and dulled atmosphere solidify it as one of the best horror releases of the year.