Prequel to Ti West’s X tells the background story of that film’s horny, homicidal spinster Pearl (Mia Goth). It takes place in 1918 with young Pearl on the farm tending to her ailing father (Matthew Sunderland) while under the strict and watchful eye of her overbearing mother (Tandi Wright), when she’s not sneaking off to the local movie theater. Her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) is away at war and Pearl sees her dreams of being a dancer fading away. Her frustrations come to a boil when she meets a handsome projectionist (David Corenswet) at the local theater and soon Pearl will do anything to see her dreams come true…even murder.
Pearl is directed by West from a script by he and star Mia Goth and is filmed like one of those old-fashioned technicolor movies of yesteryear about a young girl wanting to be a star…only this one is homicidal. There are some disturbing sequences and some gory violence when things get going. The film is also set during the Influenza epidemic and thus makes plenty of COVID era commentary about masks and paranoia. What holds the film back from being an equal to its predecessor is a very slow pace and long dramatic dialogue sequences between the good parts. It’s a somber and dreary film despite the candy-colored cinematography and it gets tedious in parts till Pearl starts to pursue her dreams with a vengeance and slaughters anyone that gets in the way or makes her angry. These moments do their job, but it’s the in-between melodrama that slows things down and interrupts the more devious tone these scenes have. It doesn’t quite have the sense of naughty fun like X did, though there are some sequences that elicit an uncomfortable giggle like Pearl’s rendezvous with a scarecrow. It’s a decent enough prequel, overall, but not quite the bloody good time X was.
Mia Goth is wonderful as the sweet yet demented Pearl. She lets us know from the very beginning that something is already not right with Pearl. Then she gleefully takes us from girl with stars in her eyes to woman with bloodlust in her heart. She’s like a demented Snow White who has a friendship with all the farm animals, including the local gator. If anything gives this film a pulse and some life, it’s her. Tandi Wright is good as her oppressive, religious German mother Ruth. She is a strong woman whose own dreams where shattered as she now must take care of a sick husband and manage their slowly dying farm. Matthew Sunderland does good work as the very sick and silent father. He communicates much only with his eyes and minimal body language and does it quite well. David Corenswet is solid as the handsome projectionist who sets a fire under Pearl’s dreams and in her married loins. Emma Jenkins-Purro is good as Pearl’s sister-in-law Mitzy and Alistair Sewell appears briefly as Pearl’s soldier husband.
Overall, this prequel had its moments, but despite some disturbing sequences and gory violence, it’s far drearier and more somber than the deviously naughty X. Mia Goth is exceptional as Pearl and the technicolor cinematography makes the carnage quite colorful, but a slow pace and some more tedious sequences between the scenes of mayhem and murder make this flick a lesser prequel to one of the best horror films of the year.
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) axes.