Pearl – Review

Release Date – 17th March 2023, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 42 minutes, Director – Ti West

Trapped on her parents (Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland) farm Pearl (Mia Goth) dreams of escape, knowing that she’s destined to be a star despite the world around her.

Pearl makes no attempt to veil the fact that Mia Goth is the key selling point of the film. The main reason you buy into it. As the camera stays still the lead and co-writer’s (alongside director Ti West) face prominently fills up the screen against a very out of focus background. For five, if not more, minutes she delivers an increasingly emotional monologue. It might begin to feel slightly lengthy but you stay engaged because of the fantastic central performance which Goth gives. A brilliant turn as the young version of her antagonist in last year’s X.

Set in 1918 Pearl lives on her parents farm. Her behaviour constantly disapproved of by her mother (Tandy Wright) as she knows she’s destined to be a star. However, her work on the farm and tending to her paralysed father (Matthew Sunderland) constantly put her hopes at a standstill, and make her even more desperate to escape her life as it is – and not just by going to the local cinema to see the latest dancing girls film and making friends with the projectionist (David Corenswet).

While certain lines and tangents may feel mostly present to link with X they’re generally tied enough into the film later on to feel more valid in this prequel. A prequel which feels rather different to what came beforehand. While there are certain horror elements, coming more into play as the film goes on, for much of the first half there’s something of a horror-tinted drama at play. The style of the film has been very carefully put together, both visually and audibly, to replicate the look and feel of early-Hollywood productions. It’s an enjoyable idea for a while, however as the run-time begins to progress you do wonder how much the narrative is going to develop. You can’t help but feel that you’re largely being kept in place because of the technical elements – particularly Eliot Rockett’s excellent cinematography – rather than what’s actually being depicted on screen.

It’s a feeling which particularly comes into play when the film feels as if its leaning into more conventional horror territory. Even when more spaced out in the third act cliché begins to crop up again and not quite with a feeling of homage as you realise the origin story is almost just “Oh no, she’s just a psychopath”. There may be good moments and some enjoyable sequences, particularly those which are more stylised and make the most of Goth’s performance such as a standout dance sequence, but often the question comes to mind as to whether a lot of the film is style over substance. Especially when at times it feels fairly light on plot details, and, again, you focus on the technical elements. There are rises throughout, but as mentioned they lead to feelings of occasional cliché, or the film settling back into itself. There’s a good film here, but like the titular character does it ever quite become a star in the way it wants?

There are feelings of style over substance throughout a lot of Pearl. While technically its excellent (especially the cinematography) and led by a brilliant Mia Goth it keeps falling into horror cliché without quite feeling like an homage.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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