‘Pearl’ tries to turn Mia Goth into a star

Pearl (2022) – Gateway Film Center

Pearl (2022)

Directed by Ti West

Released mere months after director Ti West’s throwback slasher film “X,” the prequel entitled “Pearl” brought back up-for-anything actress (and ex-wife of a similarly mannered actor, Shia LaBeouf) Mia Goth for a performance that some people are saying might earn the 29-year-old an Oscar nomination. I say not so fast. I blame recency bias—and maybe surprise that West released a prequel so quickly—for the fact that “Pearl” received higher ratings from fans than “X” did. I found it less compelling and less scary.

“Pearl” examines the origins of the creepiest character in “X,” the elderly matriarch living in the farmhouse rented by a crew of porno filmmakers. Mia Goth, in heavy prosthetics, played Pearl then, as well as now, in a prequel that takes audiences back to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Pearl—whose husband Howard is away at war—is living with her harsh mother (Tandi Wright) and invalid father (Matthew Sunderland) in the farmhouse she will eventually inherit. She dreams of being a dancer on the big screen, but her mother warns her to lower her expectations and accept the lot she’s been given in life. However much she loves her parents, though, Pearl is determined to break free at any cost.

Pearl movie rating: Why is the horror movie rated R?

The vivid colors of “Pearl” contrast with the toned-down wash of “X,” and make this movie’s world look like Oz. I was half expecting to see the words “in brilliant Technicolor” flash across the screen during the movie’s old-school opening credits. West wrote and filmed “Pearl” before audiences ever saw “X.” It was a bold move by him and by A24 to bank on the success of an original horror movie, “X,” that boasted no bigger names on the billing than Brittany Snow. I was hooked by the provocative storytelling of “X” when I saw it just this fall, but I was less compelled by “Pearl.” While “X” wasn’t especially scary, I found myself gripping the arm of the chair a few times. “Pearl,” despite a couple of gruesome deaths, had no scenes I could point to as being even the slightest bit spooky. Audiences favoring “Pearl” might have simply been impressed by Mia Goth, who delivers a better-than-average performance as the repressed daughter of German immigrant farmers. But those calling for Goth’s name to be listed among the nominees on Oscar night are probably taking it too far.

With a big orchestral score that’s always more dramatic than it needs to be, “Pearl” always seems like it’s making up for something. Even Mia Goth’s much-talked-about ten-minute monologue seemed more like a gimmick than a scene of genuine earnestness. Or maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for a slasher without much slashing.


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