Only Mia Goth could make us pine for even more Pearl, the ever-so-disturbing but admittedly amusing character who dominates the screen during almost every minute of Ti West’s prequel to X. Pearl is a decidedly fun way to explore the roots of everyone’s favorite octogenarian slasher, but the facts are that, no one — not even Scorsese! — can get enough of Goth’s performance.
The film follows Pearl’s thwarted attempts at achieving her dreams amid an isolating farm life with seemingly no way out. While audiences already anticipate Pearl’s predilection for murderous mayhem, the prequel introduces a new side of her through her desperate dreams of becoming a dancer. It’s a neat plot point that lays bare the lack of love and stability in Pearl’s life, which she thinks fame would give her — and it answers the when, why, and where of her afflictive hobby. Although Pearl’s self-proclaimed destiny to become a dancer emboldens much of her motivations, the film criminally brushes past seeing her in that element. Or more specifically, Pearl never gives us the dance scene I was yearning for — the one with Charlie the cow and her animal besties.
Dance, Pearl, dance!
Sandwiched in between murdering her parents and going to a life-changing audition, Pearl has a one-night stand with the unnamed projectionist (David Corenswet) and brings the lucky guy back to the farm. It’s a whirlwind, I know. But the perfectly nested scene reveals more of what Pearl did growing up alone on the farm than the entire first hour of the movie.
While taking her handsome beau on a tour of her barn, Pearl pitifully reveals that she’s only ever danced in front of her farm animals. She introduces them as her greatest and most magnificent audience, with Charlie the cow (who is more or less Pearl’s BFF) front row and center for every performance.
Everyone in my theater burst into laughter at her embarrassingly personal revelation, thanks to Goth’s hysterically honest line delivery, but more so because of a confused Corenswet who had just spent the last five minutes on screen gradually realizing that all is not what it seems with Pearl . Her admission that “My animals are my favorite audience” is the final red flag, which he fatally ignores. It was Pearl’s last attempt at trying to seem normal for him, and she failed. But I was left wanting more.
Yes, Ti West does give us Pearl’s dance audition, which is a remarkable feat in and of itself. But a glimpse into her practicing her routine at home, in front of all her farm friends, was just as needed. It’s criminal that we didn’t get to see the imaginary world Pearl has built while hiding away in her barn, so desperate for love that she’s trying to find it in a cow’s eyes, while she erupts into a dance routine accompanied only by the sounds of the animals.
Seeing that the juxtapositions between Pearl’s delusions and her reality carry much of this film, a dream-like dance sequence in her barn would have been a necessary addition, if not the pinnacle, of that motif. The unkempt, grimy state of the barn compared to an imagined opulence; the cows and goats to an audience of adoring fans. A single Pearl in the middle, desperately trying to convince herself that she’s meant for the stage, when deep down she already knows that the barn is the only stage she’s ever going to get.
‘Pearl’ review: Gory ‘X’ prequel stands on its own 2 feet
Despite the film being rooted in constant attempts to humanize, characterize, and explain Pearl, even going so far as to include a 10-minute monologue perfectly performed by Goth, it misses its easiest opportunity in humanizing her through a rare moment of self-liberation. — secretly dancing at home. A scene of one of her many barnyard practices would have been phenomenally comical, endearingly sad, and a simple portrayal of the otherwise complex breadth of her isolation. While I agree that some of Pearl’s self is better left for mystery — like, how did her and Theda, a whole alligator, establish such a Pavlovian bond? — I think more efforts to include her dancing, the very thing for which she keeps pleading, would have been a welcome addition. I just know that in Pearl’s eyes, Charlie the cow would have given her a standing ovation, and the A24-ian dramatics of it all would have sealed the deal for a great movie moment.
Here’s to hoping that X‘s newly announced sequel MaXXXine won’t leave us asking for even more Mia Goth.
Pearl is now in theaters.