Pearl hits cinemas September 16, 2022.
Set 60 years ago XTi West’s Pearl – aka Pearl: The X-traordinary Origin Story – lacks the focus and skill of the former. Dating back to the early years of bloodthirsty Mia Goth star, it’s a role that presents another challenge for the English actress. In X, she played rising porn star Maxine as well as rickety elderly Pearl in a tale of lust, gaze, jealousy and trans youth, unfolding in the volatile relationship between sex and violence in the American psyche. ‘Pearl’, her precursor, strays from this area although it also circulates in a similar cinematic nostalgia. He rarely knows what he wants to say in terms of aesthetics or objectivity. Therefore, the zig-zag plot never fully unites, and never allows Goth to weave the disparate elements of her character. It has little frills, but not enough excitement or goosebumps to live up to its predecessor.
Filmed back-to-back with X during the COVID pandemic (both filmed in New Zealand in 2020, at a time when the virus had not yet spread there), Pearl repurposed X’s Texan farm setting, painting, and wallpapering on its moldy walls with vibrant colors. The year 1918. The First Great War is coming to an end, and the Spanish Flu is just beginning. Howard, Pearl’s husband, is still abroad, leaving her to take care of her old, dumb father (Matthew Sunderland) while he tends the family barn. The little milkmaid dreams of dancing in the movies, despite the insistence of her arrogant German immigrant mother, Ruth (Tandy Wright), to stay home and help on the farm. What begins as a straightforward tale of a small town girl hoping to escape to Hollywood too quickly takes a turn as a seemingly naïve Pearl stabs a goose to death with a pitchfork in order to feed an alligator in the lake behind her house. Although she talks to all of her farm animals as if they were human beings (dances for her goats and cows; they are her audience), she has no difficulty with bloodshed, either for entertainment or just comfort. This tendency to devastation eventually spreads to the people who stand in its way.
The external dynamic between Pearl’s protected appearance and her desire to rebel through violence is the crux of the story, made all the more intriguing by Goth’s performance as a broad-eyed country girl whose broad-eyed trail bears a dark streak. It’s a division that feels, in some ways, embedded in the film’s aesthetic fabric; It opens with the hum of the projector mixed with the chirping of insects, drawing a direct line between Pearl’s surroundings and where she hopes to end up. The opening shot approaches the barn doors (like you did in the X), and pushes forward to capture the entire scene and expand the frame—a promise looming. However, where X speaks in the more defining visual language of 1970s horror and porn, Pearl is more obscure, ambiguous, and ironic in conversation. Their colors pop like early Technicolor glasses of the 1930s and 1940s. Its sprawling title is modeled from a similar time, as is the stringed orchestra (by Tyler Bates and Tim Williams), although it is set in the silent era. That doesn’t sound like a mistake, per se—West picks up a similar anachronism when Pearl sneaks into the movies and watches a dance with a pre-recorded song—but in the breakdown of cinematic history in this way, the movie is out of sight. What do you hope it says about images, sex, and stardom. It may also have been assigned to any other contract.
In X, sex and violence were so closely intertwined that for an elderly Pearl, they were basically the same. The prequel seems to detail this idea—Pearl befriends flamboyant theater player (David Korenzoit), who shows her illegal pornography he’s imported from Europe—but rather than explore how these worlds will eventually meet in Pearl’s psyche, the film’s approach to life feels Nationality is separate from everything else, not to mention sanded. It features a particularly steamy dispatch for The Wizard of Oz (another anachronism), but unlike the tougher X, this movie’s use of the feminine gaze and female sexual desire feels more like window dressing, rather than an exploration of taboo – as the predetermined points were. Which Pearl needed to be hit in order to feel like a proper introduction.
Goth, who ends up saddled with a raucous performance—it’s neither measured enough to be fun, nor complex enough to be fun–at least given a chance to wrestle with Pearl’s sometimes violent impulses, creating a version of the character that’s as sympathetic as the one out there. In X. She is most cheerful when she is calm, and when you reflect on the way she is seen. They are sometimes captured in long, steady shots, putting the idea of a selfie right in the crosshairs of the camera; These shots become the de facto highlight of the movie, but in the process, few other things really go downhill when the camera is moving or focusing on everyone else. Wright is the only exception, as the tyrannical mother whose life didn’t turn out the way she hoped (Pearl’s biggest fear), and whose melancholy rage threatens to engulf not just Pearl, but the entire screen, when she threatens her daughter. A mobile dance troupe performance experience. But more often than not, the film opts for a first-hand show of its most disturbing and violent ideas. Like the X, it builds tension at times, and maintains it well during fakes, but it rarely comes to fruition in an explosive way. This adds up after a while. Let the audience come down enough times, and soon the tension begins to sound like a false promise.
Even in terms of its own merits, separate from the previous movie, Pearl is mostly a bloodless homage to many different things – however, hardly the ones that feel carefully considered. Notions of jealousy pop into their head when Howard’s charismatic and energetic sister Misty (Emma Jenkins-Borough) enters the fight and auditions alongside Pearl, but rarely are the moments when Pearl’s warped perspective either consumes the frame, or takes precedence over the calculated cinematic throwbacks.
For all its flaws, the X at least felt fresh and energized. The Pearl, on the other hand, isn’t so much of an ordinary thing as X-hausting.