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Film Review: Pearl (2022)

In 1918, a young Pearl (Mia Goth) sits next to her sister-in-law Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Purro) and several other young women. These ladies are fairly harmonious with their fashion choice — white or beige dresses — except Pearl, who wears a bright red dress; needless to say, she already looks like Carrie during prom night. Both having snuck out of their respective homes to meet, the girls await her turns to audition for a touring dance company. Mitsy extends a kind and sisterly gesture, saying, “If it’s not me, I hope it’s you.”  Pearl’s sentiments are slightly to the contrary: “It has to be me.”  

Let’s get one thing straight: this isn’t a slasher movie. Sure, this new outing from Ty West  serves as a prequel to his last film, the sleazy X (released earlier this year), but the two are significantly different in their approach to their Texas-Chainsaw-inspired settings. This prequel follows the depraved old lady, previously witnessed chopping up some teens. It’s still a horror movie at its core, but instead of slicing and dicing its expendable characters like clockwork, this film instead opts for a full-scale character study of its titular country girl. It’s complimented by the occasional bout of blood-soaked mania, but not singularity driven by it. 

As with any character-driven drama, the necessity for a strong lead is paramount. There’s a lot to like about the film, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mia Goth; her performance here is stunning. She embodies her role with a commitment we see far too infrequently. Goth portrays the whole spectrum of emotion… quaint naivety, intense frustration, blubbering sobs, and at last, screaming furiosity. The Oscars have become infamous for (among other things) their dismissive look at horror films, so don’t expect Goth to get a Best Actress nod… even though this is some of the best acting we’ve encountered all year. 

Pearl falters in its pacing, however. While it’s certainly preferable to a barrage of gore right out of the gate, the film is often frustratingly patient in its execution. The final 30 minutes make the slow-burn worth it (very worth it), but the bulk would have benefited from a couple more hints and previews of the bombastic climax to come. It may not be as much of a problem for those who go to see Pearl without previously having seen X; it’s still worth the watch — definitely. In a year that flaunts a bounty of content for horror fans, the patient farmhouse terror of Pearl may not be the cream of the crop, but it’s still a treat.

Now give Mia Goth her Oscar. 

Overall rating: 7/10

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Published by Jeremy Bader

Aspiring writer, film and music lover, drummer.

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