Unless we’re talking about the MCU, most franchises make fans wait more than six months for another movie. Walking out of X last March, viewers were not only surprised that the film would receive a prequel, but it was already shot in secret. X left us with a lot of unanswered questions. We didn’t need those questions answered, as ambiguity sometimes makes art more intriguing. Thankfully, the answers in Pearl don’t take away from the experience of X. It’s an eccentric companion piece that’ll only make you appreciate X more, even if it doesn’t surpass that film.
Without going too deep into spoilers on X, let’s just say Mia Goth wears far less makeup as the titular Pearl in this prequel. The film takes place over 60 years before its predecessor as the Spanish Flu has citizens of a rural town hiding behind masks. Unsurprisingly, Pearl was shot during the pandemic. Where X had the gritty aesthetic of a 70s slasher flick and (of course) a pornographic movie, Pearl overflows with the vibrant flare of a Technicolor musical. Every time you expect Pearl to break out into song, she breaks out the pitchfork instead.
Although visually quite different, Pearl and X are thematically intertwined. Both films revolve around our obsession with stardom. In X, anyone can be a star if they’re young enough, good-looking enough, and willing to expose all. Pearl witnesses the dawn of dirty pictures from a projectionist’s booth, but she’s more interested in lighting up the screen with her dancing. While Pearl believes she’s destined for glory, her mother (played by a haunting Tandi Wright) sees her daughter for what she truly is: an unhinged woman whose torturing of farm animals is a gateway to something even worse.
Pearl may view herself as this story’s Dorothy, but she looks more like Miss Gulch riding her bicycle alongside the cornfields. She even has an encounter with a scarecrow that’ll make your brains melt. While Pearl looks sensational and provides an at times fascinating character study, it occasionally falls short of its potential. You’d think a prequel would delve deeper into Pearl’s demented relationship with her husband Howard, who we met in X. In this film, though, Howard is off to war with virtually no new insight given to his character. X was a slow burn that stuck the landing with its bloody finale. Pearl also takes its time, although the climax isn’t as bombastic as one would hope for. However, the final image will stick with you in more ways than one.
Even if Ti West’s follow-up film isn’t on the same level as X, Mia Goth has never been better. She co-wrote the screenplay with X, and you get the sense that nobody understands the character better than Goth. Instead of a high body count, the final act gives us a stellar monologue with the camera fixated on Goth’s face. As Pearl spills her heart out, we’re not sure whether to feel sorry for her or resent her. Either way, Goth is a frightening force of nature who knows how to balance terror with humor. We can expect to see more of Goth in the X sequel, MaXXXine. It’s not a trilogy that we asked for per se, but as long as Goth is involved, its existence is more than warranted.