Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Film Appreciation - An X-traordinary Origin Story

Cody Hamman has Film Appreciation for Ti West's X prequel Pearl.

One of my favorite movies of 2022 was the Ti West-directed slasher X, which was set in 1979 and told the story of a group of people who make the bad decision to shoot a porno on farmland property belonging to an elderly couple named Howard and Pearl. So I was very glad to hear that X had been shot back-to-back with a prequel that would show us the early years of the homicidal Pearl... and when this prequel, called Pearl, was released into the world just a few months after X, it turned out to be another one of my favorite movies of 2022.

This one takes us back to 1918, when the world was being overrun by a flu pandemic and people had to wear masks while going around in public. At this time, Pearl and Howard are already married, but Howard has gone off to fight in World War I, leaving his wife with her parents at their farm. The same farm Howard and Pearl will be living at sixty years from now – which is why it was so easy for West to make X and Pearl back-to-back. Although Pearl is in her twenties in 1918, she’s played by the same actress who brought the elderly version of the character to life in X: Mia Goth. Goth was buried under old age makeup to play the elderly Pearl, but here she gets to ditch the makeup, since she is a twenty-something herself.

Even if you don’t watch X before watching Pearl, it’s quite clear very early on in this movie that there is something deeply wrong with Pearl. She’s mentally ill and capable of violence. She kills animals on the farm and feeds them to the alligator in the pond on the property. She’s cold toward her father, who is in a vegetative state. She desperately wants to be the biggest star in the world, to gain fame through acting and dancing... but the dream is far out of her reach. And not just because she has a speaking voice that probably wouldn’t go over well when movies become talkies in a decade. She’s stuck on this isolated farm, caring for her father, living under the thumb of her overbearing mother, a German immigrant who speaks with an accent reminiscent of Mother Superior in Silent Night, Deadly Night. Without Howard around, she’s extremely lonely. So lonely that she considers cheating with the projectionist at the closest theatre. And even gets inappropriate with a scarecrow in a nearby field. She wishes her parents would die so she could be free to make her own choices in life. To pursue stardom.

Soon enough, Pearl has moved on from killing animals to killing humans. But while this movie has a respectable body count, the main selling point here isn’t the stalking and slashing like it was in X. This film is a character study of Pearl, and an incredible showcase of Mia Goth’s acting skills. Goth – who co-wrote the screenplay for the movie with West – is absolutely mind-blowing in this film. The murders aren’t the standout moments. Instead, the most memorable moments in Pearl are ones that show the depth of emotion Goth brought to this role. Toward the end of the movie, she delivers a lengthy monologue, going on for something like eight minutes, that is so amazing and captivating, it ranks highly as one of my favorite moments in anything I watched last year. The smile Pearl gives at the end also has to be seen to be believed.

I enjoyed X as a slasher that brought to mind favorites like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive. I enjoyed Pearl because it gave me the chance to see that Mia Goth is one of the most fascinating actresses working today. And the fact that this exceptionally well-acted character study also happened to feature some slasher movie murders was the icing on the cake.

Ti West and Mia Goth will be teaming up again on a film called MaXXXine, which will follow the survivor of X – another character played by Goth, Maxine Minx – into the 1980s. I’m very much looking forward to that, but I would also love to see more stories about Pearl that take place in the years between 1918 and 1979. I would be glad to watch several more movies in this franchise, so I hope it doesn’t wrap up as a trilogy.

No comments:

Post a Comment