Mia Goth delivers one of the year’s most powerful performances and creates an all-time-great cinematic psycho with Pearl, a prequel to X (released earlier this year) from horror maestro Ti West.
We are far enough removed from X now to reveal that Goth played both the film’s heroine, Maxine, and the creepy older woman, Pearl, in that movie. Here, she returns as a much-younger Pearl, living in 1918 and reluctantly helping out on the farm with her mean mother (Tandi Wright) and paralyzed father (Matthew Sunderland). Pearl’s husband, Howard, is away at war and hasn’t been heard from in a while; Pearl has become rather impatient, and perhaps a little intense.
In between uncomfortable moments with the family and feeding the animals, Pearl likes to fantasize about becoming a movie star. The local movie house’s theater has a projectionist (David Corenswet) who’s a self-professed bohemian with a stash of French stag films. Pearl accepts his invite to hang out; seeing as Pearl is progressively revealing herself to be a bit crazy, he perhaps should’ve just stuck to watching stag films by himself.
When Pearl finds out from her sister-in-law (Emma Jenkins-Purro) that there are local auditions for a dance troupe that could take her on the road, she grows even more obsessed with becoming a star—and Goth gets a chance to truly go off the rails with her performance. This is as bold of a performance as you will see this year, highlighted by comic moments mixed in with what can only be described as unbridled, raw terror. Pearl is about as unnerving of a movie character as you are going to get.
West shoots the film in bright, old-school technicolor—the opposite of your average horror-film color palette. There’s a strange, fairytale vibe when Pearl is talking to her animals; her cornfield dance and subsequent make-out session with a scarecrow is one for the ages.
There’s an extended monologue toward the end of the film that should garner Goth some Oscar consideration. The likelihood that will happen is low, but honestly, there hasn’t been a performance like this put to film in a long time. Goth runs the gamut of emotions, from extreme joy to tears bursting out of her eyes, and it all feels so natural that I’m actually a little concerned for her general well-being.
Stay through the credits for a quick preview of MaXXXine, a film set in the ’80s that will have Goth returning to her X role, completing West’s X trilogy.
Pearl is playing at theaters across the valley.