Review: Ti West’s “Pearl” brings the Golden Age of cinema to the modern horror audience and makes it work

“Pearl” is the second installment of the “X” franchise


Lead Mia Goth returns with the villainous backstory of Pearl, the original killer in “X.” (Photo courtesy of A24 Studio)

“Pearl,” is Director Ti West’s latest horror film. Wait, was it a horror film or did I have a “The Wizard of Oz” fever dream?

“Pearl,” premiered Sept. 16, bringing in $8 million worldwide and is a prequel to “X,” which was released earlier this year. In this film, we learn the backstory of the murderous villain – Pearl.

Cowriter Mia Goth plays Pearl, an unstable young woman living with her parents on their Texas farm while her husband is away fighting in World War I. A similar theme to that of its predecessor arises: a desperate attempt at fame in hopes of escaping a downtrodden existence of barely scraping by.

In the first film, Goth got a chance to show off her range of acting through Pearl. Having been limited by the nature of the protagonist in the first film, Goth’s performance created a unique lead. She really embraced the desperation and created a pathetic but likable protagonist that you end up pitying and feeling bad for. 

Unlike “X,” this film pulls in lighter and more whimsical themes throughout the movie. Pearl seems child-like at times, holding on to an illusion of what life could be while constantly being dragged down by her nihilistic and bitter mother, who must care for Pearl’s paralyzed father.

Though the horror aspects were not as prominent as they were in “X,” at least until the end, the unsettling uncomfortable themes start making their way in.

It was like watching an older Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” getting down and dirty with Hunk the scarecrow. It was like watching the children from “Mary Poppins” turn into serial killers and murder Bert and Mr. Banks. It was shocking and so, so good.

It felt like two cinematic worlds colliding in a way that I had not seen before and admittedly, it took me two sitting to look past it. The colors were bright and stunning at times. The yellows, blues and pinks reminded me of children’s play blocks and felt out of place with what was happening in the scenes.

The reality breaks were the cinematic cherry on top that really drove home the depressing theme of making the best of what you have in such a bleak situation. A musical scene featured a backdrop of the devastating warzone during World War I, with explosions of bombs dropping from the sky turning into fireworks, making the horrible scene phantasmal and cheery. 

Should we talk about the tropes? Having the character running slowly as the killer keeps up just by fast walking and tripping on an obvious huge hole at the most critical time of the chase provided a bit of comical relief.

Even though “Pearl” was not as impactful as its predecessor, it was still a fun and unique movie. West succeeded in creating characters and settings that were bright, fantastic and entertaining.