Director: Ti West
Writers: Ti West and Mia Goth
Starring: David Corsenwet, Mia Goth and Emma Jenkins-Purro
This was a movie that I was shocked to learn was already made upon seeing X. There was a teaser trailer at the end of that one. It was even crazier that both came out in the same year. Jaime enjoyed that movie like I did, so we went back to the Gateway Film Center to see this one on the opening Friday.
Synopsis: the story of how Pearl (Mia Goth) became a vicious killer.
Now to use something I’ve already said, this is quite interesting. We are back in 1918. Pearl lives at home with her mother, Ruth (Tandi Wright) and her father, Matthew Sunderland. She is married to Howard (Alistair Sewell) who is serving in World War I. There is a correlation here as well to the world we currently live in since they are dealing with the Spanish Flu. It is intriguing setting this in the last pandemic that changed the world.
Due to ending to quarantine, Pearl is bored. She has dreams of being a dancer and a star. When she can, she steals away to the local theater to watch the shows. It is there that she meets the projectionist who is played by David Corenswet. He comes on to her, even though knowing she is married. Pearl has duties on the farm and her mother is hard on her. Her father is wheelchair bound due to sickness. Ruth wants her daughter to stay home and avoid bringing anything to get them sick.
Things change when her mother and sister-in-law pay them a visit. Pearl is friends with the latter, Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Purro). She reveals to Pearl about the church putting on an audition for a dance troupe. Pearl sees this has her chance to get off the farm and become a star. She is convinced she has the x-factor. She will do anything that she can to make it, even if it means murder.
That is where I want to leave my recap and introduction of characters since that gives you what you need without spoiling. Where I want to start is that this is an interesting movie as a prequel to X. This one is less of a slasher until we get to the climax as this is introducing us more to the character of Pearl. I’ve seen reactions to this one and it has been positive from what I can see. There are people that even enjoy this more than X. I don’t share that same sentiment, but I also don’t mean that as a slight here either.
Where I want to start though with digging deeper is with the setting. I love this being during World War I. You can tell this was made during the pandemic as we only have six characters with names and very little in the way of extras. Ti West, who co-wrote and directed this, used what was available to him. On top of that though, it doesn’t hurt the movie. It explains why we so few people as the pandemic of Spanish Flu is happening. Ruth wants Pearl to quarantine. Having lived through and still currently in it, it draws interesting the parallels to the world we live in. Pearl is more careless. Part of that is that she is young. The other part is that she has big dreams that are being stifled. Her family lives on their isolated farm during this time. I could see that it is possible to get away with things she does. It would take too long for word to get out or someone to check on people since they keep to themselves out here. Jaime asked how it was possible and that was the logic I provided for me to accept it.
Pearl is where I will go next. To circle back to my opening thoughts, X is a slasher where this movie is more of a character study. It does well in establishing her in the beginning. We soon see that she’s been off from the beginning. I’ve said that she wants more. She wants to be a star. That is an interesting parallel to Maxine from X. Pearl sees her shot with this dance group through the church. She puts a lot of pressure on herself to make it. She also sees a chance through the projectionist. He's been out in the world where she’s been sheltered. Going to the pictures being shown at the theater is her escapism. It is a different time and it would be much harder as well. To complicate further, Pearl is married. She feels that she’s been abandoned when Howard went to war. What is interesting there, she married him thinking that since he was from money, he would get her off the farm. That didn’t happen so she resents him. She harbors some dirty thoughts that she tries to repress but can only do that for so long.
Since this is a character study, I’ll go over to the acting. Goth is amazing here. When I saw her name attached as a co-writer, I was intrigued. I love that she collaborated with West here as it gives so much more depth to the character. When she explains herself, I feel bad for her. That is a powerful thing to do when this person is a killer. It is amazing. The rest of the cast is good in support to push her where she ends up. We have her mother, Wright, who is hard on her and it makes Pearl feel like she is picked on. She loves her father, Sunderland, but he is a drain on her and her mother. Corenswet as the projectionist takes advantage of her. Jenkins-Purro pities her, which would make me resent her eventually. They all help mold and shape the Pearl we end up with. Other than that, Sewell was fine in his limited role.
That will take me over to the filmmaking. This is another well made film. It feels like a throwback to cinema of the past as well. It is deliberately paced. We are getting another slow-burn from West. Some might find it a bit slow, but it feels like a movie we would get from the 1970s. Going along with this idea, the cinematography is reminiscent of films from the 1920s which I loved. We get like iris wipes and things like that which I love. There are also scenes where we are seeing what Pearl is imagining which are good. This is a bit limited on the effects, but it also doesn’t need it. This does go brutal when it needs to be. Other than that, I’d say that the soundtrack work for what was needed as well, fitting the era.
In conclusion, this is an interesting prequel. I like that it is feels in the same universe, while doing something a bit different. The performance as Goth as our lead here is great. She gives so much depth to the character that it makes it work. The acting around her is good to push her where she ends up. This has a deliberate pace that some people might not enjoy. It worked for me. Other than that, this is a well-made film. This can be watched alone or with X which I appreciate as well. It just deepens the story. I’m hoping to get a rewatch in before the end of the year as well.
My Rating: 8 out of 10