When loud applause was heard in Venice on the credits of “Pearl”, the bodies of those killed in “X” had not yet cooled down. The prince of underground nightmares Ty West tied his fate with the studio A24 – and this, as you know, is a direct ticket to people for scarecrows. Coquettishly and in an atmosphere of secrecy (which only adds to the charm of the project), after the filming of the seventies slasher, work began on a prequel about the youth of a fierce old woman, whom evil fate prepared for a company of filmmakers of the erotic genre. Ty West rewinds the calendar to World War I to reveal how Pearl grew, while Mia Goth tweaks the script.
The text contains spoilers for the films “X” and “Pearl”.
The husband (Alistair Sewell) writes letters in the mud of the trenches, Pearl rehearses her dance steps in the barn in front of the barnyard. German migrants in the States are waiting for news from the newspapers – the prim mother Ruth (Tandy Wright) does not want to read about dead compatriots before dinner, while her daughter is desperately waiting for the end of the war. Farmers devote all their time and energy to the land and caring for their father-husband (Matthew Sunderland), who is confined to a wheelchair. The alluring world of the stage and the magic of cinema are a sweet pill for gray everyday life: one day Pearl will become a star! In the meantime, you have to grit your teeth, endure the reproaches of a disciplined mother, swallow your father’s morphine and feed the alligator (un)successfully caught under the pitchfork goose.
Pearl names domestic animals, which include the reptile in the lake, after the stars of the “great mute”: the toothy girlfriend got the name of the artist Theda Bara, who played Cleopatra in the film of the same name. Pearl is content with rare miracles of escapism: you can run away to a session, steal your mother’s old dress and soar in the clouds, rereading your spouse’s messages. But one day, Mitzi’s sister-in-law (Emma Jenkins-Purro) offers to audition for a dance group with the prospect of a Christmas tour: the gap between expectations and reality can either disappear or open right under your feet.
Mia Goth as Pearl in a still from the movie “Pearl”
Those who watched “X” know what kind of retirement Pearl is destined for: a spectacular postscript and an inglorious end become the happy start of Maxine’s solo career. The last girl is waiting for another exit in the closing chapter of the trilogy about cinema, sex and violence. Mia Goth played both, or rather, three: Maxine, the naive Pearl and Pearl, who for years looked failure straight in the eye. But for what: a beautiful gesture? A nod to the boundless talent of the actress? A doppelganger nightmare come to life? Or a cinematic illusion?
We will return to the parallels later, but for now let’s try to look at the tape in isolation from its predecessor. If we subtract the “X” events from “Pearl” in the general equation, then what remains is a bizarrely beautiful horror biopic about a failed artist, almost like “The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov in the Technicolor color palette. Masterful stylist Ty West makes the warmth of MGM family musicals sizzle, pumping the tales of the Wizard of Oz through the veins of Tobe Hooper’s blood. Pearl – Dorothy, who was not carried away from Kansas by a hurricane, the scarecrow did not come to life, and the animals did not speak heart to heart with the hostess. The farmer’s daughter did not receive the coveted shoes, a dose of adventure, and most importantly, real friends. West rhymes the Spanish flu and the covid pandemic, in bright colors and dances collecting a canvas about the horrors of isolation and the lack of sane communication. A disliked daughter with an inability to empathize seeks a return in illusory glory – compensation for recognition in the unconditional adoration of the crowd. Mia Goth enjoys the role in the same way that Pearl relishes violence: consistently, accurately and with all her heart. The heroine instantly entered the pop culture fund of charming villains with a second bottom (country Joker! Maniac from the Overlook Hotel!): look for girls in a red ruffle dress during the upcoming Halloween in bars around the world.
But let’s get back from the outfits to the nudity of “X”: Ty West stirs up old films on the editing table to feel the wind of change and the weight of the boulders of tradition. The interval between the youth of Pearl and Maxine is about 60 years – 60 years of the 20th century with wars, revolutions, emancipation and the development of film language. The eras cascade and cancel each other, and then become a source of nostalgia: sexual liberation, which Pearl could hardly dream of, became a reality for Maxine, as well as a career contrary to her parents’ word. Pearl suffers in the conservative and stuffy arms of her mother: Ruth even considers dancing in a church ensemble to be a sin, while Maxine broke off relations with the sect family (the preacher from the TV screen talks about the escape in the very finale of “X”).
In the mirror fates one face is reflected: the same oval, the blush of the cheeks and plump lips. With literally the same initial external data, talents are surrounded by completely different social conditions, but similar patterns of behavior. Ty West resorts to the mysterious category of the X-factor: Maxine is all around saying that he is, and Pearl – that the young lady did not get the “pearl”. And in both cases, the fate and career of women are danced by men: that very MacGuffin of talent is nothing more than a private opinion, someone else’s projection, a fair label. Lovers (pimp Maxine and projectionist at Pearl) open the doors to the world of the porn industry for young ladies and promise a sky in diamonds.
The general start is crowned with a different finish of the race to popularity. The era, despite the bloody revolt, leaves Pearl in the trap of patriarchal dependence: either the projectionist will take him to shoot banned films in Europe, or the director of amateur performances will take him to the ensemble, or the husband will forgive everything and remain with his wife in sickness and health. You have to be content with what you have: boiled corn for dinner and a cold (literally in the finale) family. In the epilogue, Pearl shows the consequences of any martial law: the desire not to go forward, but to roll back, in times of prosperity (bad relatives are better than having no relatives at all). The frenzy and rebellion of the 70s more loudly propagate a break with the past, a change in the paradigm of consciousness and unfamiliar horizons. Two horror films of different stylistic cuts give rise to a diptych of the fate of one person on different dates of the calendar: Pearl crashed against a glass ceiling, Maxine broke closed doors.
But metamorphosis is not displayed in the only true way. In a cyclic composition, Ty West confidently draws the lines of inevitable succession. Pearl in “X” unwittingly inherits her mother’s fate and the condemnation of the younger generation, Mitzi’s words “it will be our secret” become a passing banner from the 1910s to the 1970s, and Maxine, albeit ironically, copies Pearl’s gestures. Any table can be covered with a genre tablecloth of repetitions: both feminist discourse, and the development of film language (how far are MGM musicals from Hooper and Giallo slashers?), and the limits of decency. It remains to be seen how Ty West sees the end of the saga and how the trauma of separation helps to become a star in an era of pop cultural generalizations.