Sometimes, in the world, you find a pearl in an oyster, sometimes Pearl makes the world their oyster, such is the case in director, editor and co-writer Ti West's retro slasher Pearl. Not only does she want to be a star but other co-writer Mia Goth is actually the star of the show here as Pearl herself, the film acting as a prequel to the duo's last collaboration 'X' with third time-jumping entry already greenlit. Set in 1918 during World War I and influenza pandemic, Pearl is living on previously established Texas farm with her mom Ruth (Tandi Wright) and paralysed dad (Matthew Sunderland) as her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) is away serving in military. Pearl is captivated by movies and later meets a handsome projectionist (David Corenswet), before her murderous tendencies start to rear their bloody heads.
What is both really refreshing and at the same time exciting about this film series West is cooking is that things you want to talk about afterwards about Pearl are completely different. While X was more of an ensemble piece and Goth was good in that group, this is from top to bottom her showcase as an actor. There's an especially twisted contrast between her voice and body which then creates unpredictability in scenes where there was none in the beginning. Later in the final act, she also gets to live a star's dream—which means delivering an emotional monologue—one she nails note for note. Similarly twisted, more active in storytelling and including fine visual connections is Tom Hammock's production design which often makes a lot out of what seems to be little money but really taking the advantage of Pearl's brasher colour palettes and shades.
As a director, West does give some of his flair up with this film since he's often interested in paying homage but he has fine-tuned his editing rhythms. It's also just nice to see someone who isn't afraid of getting flashy in a cutting room when the material can be absurd considering that the movie is very much in genre space. Where the homages and attention to detail falter is in how Pearl's world comes out of speakers. Composer duo Tyler Bates and Tim Williams are seemingly doing imitations for most of their score, notably when compared to unsettling tones in X, while the film's sound editing (supervised by Peter Staubli and Karen Baker Landers) takes that approach and turns it up to eleven, resulting in sometimes ear-piercing gravel in recorded or added dialogue and sound effects. It's a slight bummer that those can be distractions, particularly when Goth is out there acting for her life.
Smileys: Mia Goth, editing, production design
Frowneys: Sound editing, score
Slew everything but the dance number.