Ti West’s shot-in-secret prequel to this year’s X, Pearl, is a whip-smart origin story, with more Goth and more gore. Co-written by West and his star Mia Goth, the film rewinds to 1918, when Pearl (the elderly farm owner played by Goth in X) is now a young girl, living with her strict mother (Tandi Wright) and wheelchair-bound father (Matthew Sutherland) on an isolated farmstead.
With Pearl’s young husband Howard away fighting in the First World War, she dreams of being a dancer and fleeing the farm. She even meets a handsome cinema projectionist (David Corenswet) in town who encourages her, but familial obligations, cleaning up after her helpless father, bring her crashing back down to reality. Her fury towards her folks soon builds and her inner psycho boils over, proving – as her mother says – "you can’t keep your true self hidden”.
Fans of X will enjoy the nods, not least the crocodile in the water near to the farm (that initially gets fed a goose that Pearl skewers, the first hint that she has a taste for killing). There’s also a sly reference to porno movies, not unlike the one being made on Pearl’s farm in X, though West never overplays the callbacks.
His penchant for the weird also satisfyingly spills out on occasion, from the moment Pearl humps a scarecrow to a WWI-themed dance routine that she performs when she auditions for a show. There is also a clever use of the Spanish Flu pandemic - something we can all relate to post-COVID - which has left Pearl’s mother and others fearful of germs.
At its heart, Goth is fabulous, switching from her sweet-and-sunny persona to full-on raging diva. While its grimy predecessor alluded to 1970s horrors like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this feels like a bow to Hollywood’s Golden Age, albeit one slathered in blood. If not quite as nasty as X, there’s still plenty of sicko kills (pitchforks at the ready) to sate gore-hounds.
Amid the escalating violence, and a twisted third act, there’s also some real cinematic flourishes from West, including a sequence where the screen splits and the action is mirrored Rorschach-style. Even the end credits, as Goth holds a smile - and has to keep holding it – suggest real inventiveness.
Pearl reaches cinemas September 16. For more, check out the most exciting upcoming horror movies heading your way soon.