Whenever I can, I enjoy sitting down to watch a movie without knowing anything about it. All I knew about Pearl was that it stars Mia Goth and it was well received critically. When the opening credits rolled, I was surprised to see that it was directed by Ti West, and co-written by him and Goth (Goth had recently starred in X which was also directed by West). As the movie rolled on, I began to notice themes and references that were similar to X, leading me to do the mildest of detective work to discover that Pearl is actually a prequel to X. Oh, the surprises we find when we pop open IMDb.

X came out in March of this year, and was a horror throwback to movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The film explored themes such as stardom, beauty, and aging and gave us a killer in the form of Pearl, and elderly woman played by Mia Goth (who also played the role of Maxine, an aspiring star). There was a lot to be enjoyed in X, but I felt that the second half let down what had been established thematically and just turned into standard slasher horror. Why couldn't it have stuck with focusing primarily on characters and the interesting concepts being explored?

Well, for everything that I wished X would have been, Pearl is the masterpiece that I had craved. Written by West and Goth during the production of X, this is a film that doubles down on exploring a character and their motivations. The viewer doesn't need to have seen X for this movie to work, but it helps as it brings Pearl and every messed up piece of who she is to life.

The movie finds Pearl at home on her family farm, waiting for her husband to return from The Great War while society is dealing with the outbreak of the Spanish Flu. She is portrayed as a simple country girl who yearns for a bigger life. When she is sent into town to make purchases, she goes to the local cinema and has dreams of becoming a chorus girl, feeding her desire for a different life and one where she can be made immortal through the art of motion pictures.

As we go deeper into the runtime, we also go deeper into Pearl and begin learning about a hideous side of her that crosses the outward demeanour of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz with an interior that is more inline with Theodore Bundy. The longer we spend in Pearl's company, the more we learn, and the more unsettling this character study becomes.

Goth is the biggest selling point, with her performance being the calibre of an Oscar winner, although I cannot imagine her getting a nomination. Fun fact, after watching the film I guessed that the best avenue for her efforts to be recognized would be The Independent Spirit Awards, and it turns out that she has already been nominated for best lead performance.

Pearl also has a second nomination for the Independent Spirit Awards due to the outstanding cinematography of Eliot Rockett. Pearl is a character who is defined by her surroundings, the life that she is trapped in, the place she desperately wants to flee. Rockett's masterful eye makes the location an appendage of Pearl's, sometimes cancerous and sometimes filled with hope.

A problem that can happen with prequels is that they sometimes serve to answers questions that we the audience never asked, and sometimes they exist merely as a cute selling point for a film to be greenlit. Honestly, the story of X does not need this prequel, but that doesn't matter. Pearl stands up on its own two legs of tragedy and psychopathy. It is a story that becomes more than just a link to an already existing film, and excels at showing the darkness that can exist within the sweetest and most naive looking people. 

As I mentioned, having seen X does bring something to this film. Goth's performance, the excellent script, and the directing of West hit many marks that naturally tie into the character of Pearl in X, as well as adding more flesh to the bones of the themes explored. Some horror fans may find themselves bored if they don't like slow and methodical films. The character of Pearl is what is important here, and that leaves kills spaced far apart as they are not the main attraction. However, it is the build up between these violent acts and the effort into establishing both character and setting that makes them horrific and monstrous when they do happen.

There are a few scenes in this film that will stick with me forever, both of which have the camera focused solely on Pearl. Goth's performance is key to the success of this film, as well as West's steady hand that keeps the movie from turning into just another horror, avoiding the pitfalls of X. There is one more film planned for this cinematic universe that West has created, and I cannot wait to see it. Perhaps if I knew ahead of time this was set as a backstory film to the character of Pearl in X, I may have not watched it, figuring that a prequel was pointless. I would have been wrong. This is one of the best horrors in a year that has some all time standouts.

Rating - 4 out of 4 stars