As its title and poster might suggest, Pearl is a character piece, period piece, and horror movie all in one, and it’s all pulled together by Goth’s spellbinding performance. She was rock-solid in X as both Maxine and an older Pearl, but what she does in this movie is simply on another level. You just can’t look away from this girl. Her eyes, her hands, her gait… every little thing she does steers the story. And boy, does the story go to some disturbing places.
Much like Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter, exploring Pearl’s psyche is as, if not more, satisfying than watching her kill her victims. The “why” is as important as the “how,” and her journey from kill to kill makes sense as her inner demons are slowly revealed. The movie isn’t necessarily terrifying in the way X was, because we’re with Pearl the entire time. She’s not suddenly appearing in doorways or lurking behind barn doors here. On top of that, most of the kills happen in broad daylight. But the suspense exists in the fact that we learn just how dangerous she can be before (most of) her victims do. It’s a psychological dread, and it’s handled brilliantly by West and his team.
Pearl’s private moments, like her bloody encounter with a goose and her, uh, run-in with a scarecrow aren’t only entertaining in the most unsettling way, they offer unforgettable glimpses into her mind that tie the story together perfectly. You see her final kill coming from a mile away, but watching her do the awful things that we know she’s capable of doing isn’t any less frightening. In fact, it makes it scarier. The more we understand her, the more terrifying she becomes.
If there’s anything somewhat disappointing about Pearl it’s that it doesn’t really enhance one’s viewing of X or vice versa. They’re completely different movies stylistically, which is good. But watching Pearl’s origin story only makes her part in X feel like an inessential add-on. Pearl is terrific, terrifying, and overflowing with nightmare fuel, which is really saying something when considering how ravishing it looks and sounds. With the third film in the series, MaXXXine, just announced by A24, it’ll be interesting to see if West and company can top what they’ve done with Pearl. It’ll be one hell of an accomplishment if they do.
Pearl is playing in limited release now.