Cinematic Releases: Origins of a Psycho-Biddy: Pearl (2022) - Reviewed


Ti West's X (2022) was a surprise hit, deftly weaving together a slasher with pornographic elements all while creating a believable '70s era film pastiche. Mia Goth played a dual role--Maxine, the starry-eyed porno actress and Pearl, the sexually frustrated old woman with murderous urges. In Pearl (2022), West explores the tragic backstory behind Pearl's bloodthirsty appetite for both violence and sex and the parallels between her and Maxine's lives.  

Pearl takes place during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic on the same isolated farm from X. Things aren't going well for Pearl's family: her father has been left disabled from contracting the flu requiring constant care, Pearl's husband has been sent off to the war, and her mother has become a cold shell of herself after becoming the sole caretaker of him and the farmstead. All that is left for Pearl are her fleeting daydreams of becoming a glamorous movie star and the harsh drudgery of her real life.

Like X, this film explores the relationship between ambitions and reality, and how the former can be undone by the latter. Pearl is trapped into her situation both figuratively and literally, forced to fulfill her patriarchal womanly duties as both a wife and a daughter, and physically forced to stay at home due to the threat of the disease circulating. Her frustrations and low self-esteem combine into a dangerous mixture creating an explosive cocktail of unexpressed emotions. The narrative does well with painting Pearl as a somewhat sympathetic character, at least in the first half of the film. The second half of the film is quite gruesome, and it uses this gore to reinforce the themes and characterization.

Mia Goth gets to stretch her acting wings far and wide in this film, simultaneously portraying Pearl as a quiet and timid young woman, a raving maniac, and finally a cold-blooded killer. She embodies all three of these forms effortlessly, switching between them as the situation dictates, imbuing Pearl with a manic energy that is extremely compelling to watch, almost like a parody of Judy Garland roles. Pearl's frustrations are tangible and ultimately devastating to watch as she collapses under the weight of her many personal disappointments.  

The pacing is a bit slower than X, but the payoff to the slow burn is worth the wait. West nails the '20s era aesthetic without overdoing it, and he deftly hides visual allusions to X, like Pearl wearing overalls like Maxine did and transferring the iconic powder blue eyeshadow color to her shirt instead. It provides more context to why Pearl was so enamored with Maxine as they share similarities both external and internal. Both of them are women chasing their dreams despite everything around them trying to drag them down, though it remains to be seen if Maxine can flourish where Pearl failed.

Pearl is a surprisingly self-contained film, it can be enjoyed in a vacuum, but it works even better as a companion piece to X, and those who have seen that film will get the most out of this one.

--Michelle Kisner