The Many Thrills and Kills in Pearl

Colored image: at center, portrait of Mia Goth as Pearl. Her hands are bloody and are on her cheeks.
Pearl (2022). Directed by Ti West. Starring Mia Goth.

Have you ever wanted something so bad you would kill for it? This question becomes the motivation for our protagonist in Pearl, the second installment to Ti West’s trilogy. As a prequel to the well received release of X earlier this year, Pearl explains the actions set forth in X, specifically Pearl’s rise to stardom. Having worked on both, Mia Goth and West create a film that simultaneously entertains and frightens the audience.

In its hyper-sexual slasher predecessor X, Wayne Gilroy (Martin Henderson), brings together a team of actors and filmmakers to create what he believes to be the next great thing in film: at-home videos. In an attempt to get ahead of the game, he rents a farmhouse (the setting for his great film) from two elderly farmers. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, things surprisingly go awry leaving us to wonder what is going to happen to the star of X, Maxine (Mia Goth). But rather than focus on this star, West found inspiration in the farmer’s wife, Pearl (also Mia Goth). Through Goth, who co-wrote the script, Pearl becomes a terrifying yet entertaining tale of what happens when you stand in someone’s way towards success – or specifically, what happens to an isolated, maniacal young woman like Pearl when you tell her no.

And we do get a lot of background from the film on details found in X: the origins of the infamous ax and who used it, the owner of the car at the bottom of the lake, and most importantly, we see how Pearl’s adolescence was clouded with hatred and negativity. In a way, we come to understand how a harmful family environment can traumatize anyone. Goth’s acting also makes this clear as she curses her family and reaches for something greater in life, but it leads to moments in the film that felt predictable and over-played.

But what the film lacks in creating unexpected plot twists for its audience is made up by West’s use of horror itself. While the film has been marketed as a “horror” film, the genre is not the heart of the film. Instead, West uses the blood and gore of slasher films to aid in his story of Pearl. It is not about showing the murder of the person who did you wrong but giving context as to what drove you to kill (à la Pearl). She was clearly a troubled girl with a troubled past, but the blood of her enemies covering the nearest rake just happened to help paint that picture.

That being said, Pearl is a horrifying story of how greed and ambition can ultimately lead to personal disasters. When she shouts “the whole world’s gonna know my name” through wide eyes and flared nostrils, we are reminded that these things happened to her because she caused them to happen. There is no humility or penance for the actions she takes. As she recovers from the dire consequences of her actions, we too are reminded that you can’t always get what you want (and maybe that’s okay).

Kayla Melendez is a Senior studying English in the Literature track at FIU. Upon graduating, she has no idea what she wants to do with her life, as long as she is somewhere tan and happy. Naturally curious, she enjoys reading, writing, and watching films.