Review: Where is Pearl’s X factor?



Mia Goth embraces her role as Pearl in the latest installment in the “X” franchise.

As the second installment in Ti West’s “X” horror franchise, “Pearl” unfortunately falls short in living up to its predecessor’s ingenuity. Even with a stellar performance from Mia Goth as Pearl, the movie is nothing more than lackluster. Simply put, “Pearl” is only salvageable when put next to “X.” Without the original, the prequel barely stands alone as a horror movie, much less one worth watching. 

As the name suggests, the story sets up the titular character’s eventual decline into the murderous role she is destined to become in “X.” She is depicted in her prime, desperate to escape her family’s farm and live out her dreams of becoming the next great dancer in “the pictures.” The problem is that none of this information is new. 

“X,” which follows Pearl’s killing spree when a group of young actors rent out her land to make an adult film, already set up this information. Since it is a prequel, the audience already knows how this is going to play out for her, leaving us with a narrative devoid of stakes or twists.  

While “X” gave us a moderately well-explained murderer, with motive and some bland humanity behind the creepiness, “Pearl” refuses to build on the character or live up to it’s possibilities. She remains stagnant, trapped between the previous movie’s characterization of her, and the overwhelming potential for her in the prequel, living up to neither and disappointing all.

That being said, Mia Goth once again gives a phenomenal performance, fighting to craft a person rather than a two-dimensional portrayal of one like the script suggests. She truly is a powerhouse, proven by the only saving grace of the movie: an over five minute monologue that is as raw as it is intense. The camera never cuts or pans away from Goth’s face as she reveals all the dark secrets and festering problems clouding her conscience to her sister-in-law. Each tear falls with a purpose and for once, the meandering plot seems to have found its meaning. This moment forces the audience to confront the character’s reality in an overwhelming way, as you are kept captive during this outward display of grief, pain and fear. Here, Goth turns a naive, selfish young girl into a true murderer that audiences are able to sympathize with. 

The script is what kills the suspension, with entirely predictable victims and stagnant – almost comical – dialogue that gives the audience nothing worthwhile to be hooked on. It is painfully obvious when someone is about to die, and for a horror movie that is meant to be a slasher there is barely any gore until the very end. The supporting characters feel bland, the setting is only salvaged by “The Wizard of Oz” like cinematography and the motive is nonexistent. This disappointment is the film’s true horror.

With its various faults, the movie is at least visually appealing. Both “Pearl” and “X” open on the same shot of a farmhouse. While “X” shows a rundown structure in muted colors against an ominous sky, “Pearl” opens as an idyllic All-American rural home. Every scene feels picturesque and the symbolism throughout only heightens this. 

The most noticeable example lies in Pearl’s costuming, done by Malgosia Turzanska, which highlights the character’s dissension into insanity with outfits that gradually incorporate more vibrant shades of red. In one of her final costumes, the blood from Pearl’s most recent murder barely shows up on her cherry-red dress and instead matches with the splatters staining her hands and face. 

An origin story with nothing new to say, the prequel can only be explained as a cheap attempt at profitability. With this disappointment, hopeful viewers can now set their sights on the upcoming third installment to the franchise, “MaXXXine.” The sequel still has no release date but graced audiences with a teaser trailer at the end of “Pearl.” At best, the third and final movie will retrace its originality to the success of “X” and at worst, it will at least be another chance to see Goth’s talent on the big screen. 

Either way, “Pearl” may have ironically killed any chance at turning the “X” trilogy into an impactful franchise in horror history, instead leaving it to rot on the farm with our titular character.