By Nicole Venetia
Move over Patrick Bateman, there’s a new axe-wielding psychopath that young, impressionable moviegoers can project themselves onto in town.
pearl, directed by Ti West. Playing at AMC Boston Common, AMC Assembly and theaters across New England.
Since the cinema exists, it is the same for the queens of the cry. Although the nickname “Scream Queen” was not coined until the advent of modern slasher in the 1970s, many actresses have made a name for themselves as horror movie heroines, villainous vampires and /or psychotic women abusing all kinds of sharp objects. : the era of silence had Theda Bara (most of whose films are sadly lost), European arthouse horror had Barbara Steele, and Alfred Hitchcock had his cadre of blonde beauties like Janet Leigh and Tippi Hedren to threaten onscreen (and off). ). The pantheon of cinematic scream queens runs the gamut from Oscar-nominated A-listers like Jamie Lee Curtis and Toni Collette to low-budget B-movie legends like Linnea Quigley and Katharine Isabelle. As of 2022, three actresses in particular have proven themselves worthy of the title: Anya Taylor-Joy (The witch, Last night in Soho), Maika Monroe (It follows, Observer), and the aptly named Mia Goth.
She made her screen debut in Lars von Trier. Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2Goth made a name for herself throughout the 2010s with supporting roles in ornate genre films like Gore Verbinski’s. A cure of well-beingClaire Denis’ high lifeand the exquisite reimagining by Luca Guadagnino of Dario Argento Suspiria. Last March, Goth finally broke through as a full-fledged leading woman with Ti West’s retro-slasher X, a pornographic gore fest about a group of aspiring adult filmmakers whose attempt to make a dirty movie on an elderly couple’s rundown farmhouse in Texas ends in a bloody massacre. Playing two roles – aspiring porn actress Maxine Minx and her elderly, murderous look-alike Pearl – Goth delivered a virtuoso performance as XThe Last Daughter of and her psychotic (but inherently tragic) villain. If you were wise enough to stay after the credits, then you know X is West’s first stab in an all-new horror franchise for A24. pearlthe second entry into the X-verse, comes just six months after X premiered at South by Southwest, screened out of competition at Venice to add much-needed gore and viscera to the prestigious film festival.
Filmed in secret after X packaged manufacture, pearl is a prequel-sperm– origin story set in the final days of World War I, where the titular heroine’s dashed dreams of fleeing the family farm for Hollywood stardom inspired her own murderous impulses. West has found a muse and creative collaborator in Goth, whose contributions here include co-writing credit in addition to his delightfully unbalanced performance. Contrary to Xthe grimy grindhouse veneer, pearl is a horse of a totally different color. Visually, it’s a depraved film by Douglas Sirk that negotiates Xthe tributes to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for The Wizard of OzTechnicolor fantasy. Tonally, pearl is high camp goodness, pairing Pearl’s melodramatic descent into madness with the comedic eccentricities of Mary Harron American psycho. Move over Patrick Bateman, there’s a new axe-wielding psychopath that young, impressionable moviegoers can project themselves onto in town.
With her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) away to fight the Great War in Europe, poor doe-eyed Pearl tends to the family farm and her invalid father (Matthew Sunderland) under the strict watchful eye of her German mother. bossy Ruth (Tandi Wright, her taciturn attitude is a mixture of Piper Laurie’s Margaret White and Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West). Like Dorothy Gale, Pearl wishes to be taken somewhere far, far and over the rainbow – to Hollywood in particular, where she dreams of becoming a backing vocalist in “the pictures” she likes to see whenever Ruth sends him to town for Dad’s morphine. After attending a matinee one afternoon, Pearl meets the theatre’s handsome young projectionist (David Corenswet), who charms her with sweet talk about how pretty she is to be on the big screen herself. Their cute encounter is one of many illuminating scenes that recontextualize the withered pearl we encounter decades later in X; her starry-eyed ambition betrays a deep sense of loneliness and abandonment, clearly hungry for intimacy and familial love. She has only her dreams to sustain her.
The chance to escape a lifetime of domestic drudgery comes when Pearl’s sister-in-law Mitzy (newcomer Emma Jenkins-Purro) informs her that a touring dance troupe will be holding auditions at the local church. . Determined to make the cut, Pearl’s aspirations inevitably turn into murderous mania. She annihilates anyone who dares stand in the way of her fantasy: Mom Ruth is roasted alive and thrown into the basement after her dress catches fire during a heated argument; Pearl chokes her father to death in a gruesome mercy killing (he’d just be a dead weight on the way to fame anyway); and the projectionist receives a fork in the heart when he reneges on his post-coital promise to take Pearl to Europe with him. It’s a lot funnier than it is disturbing thanks to Goth’s unwavering commitment to the bit. Yet an underlying tragedy lurks beneath every exaggerated murder. We know that Pearl is destined to live and die on this farm no matter what, as much a victim of historical circumstances as her own fractured psyche. The (obvious) metatextual significance of Goth’s dual role in X is highlighted here. Because she is played by the same actress, Pearl has the same X factor as Maxine: the only difference being that one never took a break and the other happened to be fucking a sleazebag whose attempt to jump into the XXX home video market got him killed.
Much has already been said about Goth’s performance, especially her climactic six-minute monologue where she tearfully confesses all her crimes to Mitzy in preparation for a one-on-one with Howard when he returns home. Delivered in one unbroken take, Goth strips away layer after emotional layer to unveil Pearl’s grief, guilt and rage, mascara bleeding down her cheeks like oily tears from Tin Man: “The Lord must have been generous with you, he never answers any of my prayers. I don’t know why, what did I do? What’s wrong with me? Please tell me for that I can improve! I don’t want to end up like mom! The monster from the horror movie walks away and in her place is a young woman who wants and suffers from something more out of life than the hand which was given to him.
It’s undoubtedly a fantastic monologue, but more telling is the previous scene where Pearl dances hard for the troupe judges. It is a vaudevillian number complete with rear-projection war photographs and a chorus line of rosy-cheeked girl soldiers – she is turned down because she is neither blonde nor young enough for their liking. “But it’s the best dance I’ve ever done in my life,” Pearl says, her voice cracking in disbelief as her confidence plummets into a hysterical fit of tears familiar to anyone who’s suffered the weight of rejection.
As X, pearl will have its detractors, either because they’re exhausted from A24’s “high horror” brand (nor pearl neither X fit that mold exactly, but I get it) or because beautiful women on the verge of a psychotic breakdown wielding knives/axes/pitchforks just aren’t their thing. pearl is about as subtle as a hammer to the face, gleefully indulging in the cinematic legacy of monstrous women while speaking to the deeper emotional truths that breed movie queens.
Nicole Veneto graduated from Brandeis University with a master’s degree in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, focusing on feminist media studies. His writings have been featured in MAY Feminism & Visual Culture, Film Matters Magazineand Boston University hoochie reader. She is the co-host of the new Marvelous podcast! Or, the death of cinema. You can follow her on Letterboxd and Twitter @kuntsuragi as well as on Sub-stack.