I didn’t have a chance to catch X, Ty West’s slasher about a porn crew in the ’70s that goes out to make a movie in a rural area only to be terrorized by the demonic old people who live next-door. Or something, remember, I didn’t see it.
I generally like West. As The Boy and I say when we see one of his movies, “He’s trying to do something.” He’s not, in other words, doing a paint-by-the-number, let’s have a jump scare at the 12:00, 15:00 and 23:00 minute mark thing that characterizes the Blumhouse era of horror movies.
And I’m not knocking Blumhouse: I’ve enjoyed many (most?) of his movies and I really enjoy the novel concept of paying your actors rather than trying to screw them with dishonest accounting practices.
But horror—all art, really, but horror especially—needs a constant infusion of daring ideas, risky approaches, things that are unsettling, unnerving, even disgusting, or it quickly starts to feel empty. Which brings us to Pearl, a kinda-sorta “What would a modern horror movie look like if it’d been filmed in Technicolor and starred Judy Garland.”
My thoughts went to Judy Garland and Meet Me In St. Louis. Imagine my embarrassment when the obvious Wizard of Oz parallel was pointed out.
Pearl is a girl who wants to be in show biz. Her father’s had a stroke and her mother is a harsh prairie type. She wants to get off the little Kansan farm (I have no idea if it’s actually Kansas) and become a showgirl or maybe be in one of the movies. She’s just a tad psychotic, however.
If we track the full on Oz parody, her mother is both Auntie Em and the wicked witch. Her father is both Uncle Henry and The Tin Man, unable to speak from his chair, just moving his eyes from side to side. The Wizard/snake oil salesman is a man who comes peddling movies (including those kinds of movies) a la Brinton, and who promises to take her away from all this.
The scarecrow? It’s a literal scarecrow she f—you know, some pre-production elements of the 1939 movie had a love interest between Dorothy and the Scarecrow! This movie demonstrates what a bad, bad idea this is.
Ultimately, besides the wonderful and dare-I-say subversive premise of shooting a horror movie as though you were shooting Oklahoma, this is an actor’s picture. Mia Goth must, and does, carry the film, including a lengthy, climactic speech (which might even be expository if you’ve seen X). Honestly, it’s as much a tour-de-force and demonstrating of acting chops as Brendan Fraser’s in The Whale, and will probably go unnoticed as horror generally does.
Is it for everyone? Of course not. It’s a horror movie and it’s very unsettling in parts. Because of the circumstances and Goth’s performance, you have an inclination to sympathetic toward Pearl, but at no point does the movie suggest that she isn’t a monster at her core. You might be able to appease her for a while. As long as things go well. But the murderous intentions are just barely below the surface. They only need an excuse.
As a metaphor for actors, there may be something there, too, but who am I to say?
The Boy and I liked it and will probably get out to see the third movie in the trilogy, which takes the sole survival of the first movie and puts her ahead a few years to the early video years of porn. It’s not especially interesting as a concept, but I will like seeing how West interprets the dawn of the direct-to-video era.