Pearl movie review & film summary (2022)

ytsfreeSeptember 16, 2022

Ti West’s “Pearl” is about how frightening actors can be as they feed that corrosive need to be seen at all costs. So it’s fitting that this movie’s most brilliant moment, its final shot (not a spoiler, as we know she makes it to 1979 in West’s “X”), is from Goth using her face to disturbing ends. It’s a wide, forced smile; her teeth signal happiness, while her sporadically twitching facial muscles and welling tears say something much scarier, all while frozen in that desperation. West makes us stare at it during the closing credits. It’s all wildly, wonderfully discomforting, and one wishes this character study strove for that effect more often while telling a story that’s not as nuanced as its final, silent call for help. 

But for how obvious the plotting and dialogue can be from co-writers West and Goth in painting a portrait of a monster, it’s fun to interpret Pearl’s proclamations throughout her film as actor/serial killer double-speak: “The whole world is going to know my name,” “I don’t like reality,” “All I want is to be loved.” Goth makes these revelations count in primal showcases, expressed with a breathy, heavily accented voice that’s meant to make her sound kind of naive and very much innocent, a carbon copy of the countless Pearls out there. A long-running close-up of Goth later on takes us on a wild ride of her anxieties about not being loved, her fears of her true self, unaware that the sudden turn within her is near, especially after someone makes her feel small. Then they suffer for it. 

Those who remember this year’s “X” will remember the farm where a handful of adult film folk died, and Goth’s elderly version of Pearl, who was often naked and rebuffed and took it all very personally for a course of events a la “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” The few kills in “Pearl” are more calculated, and come as climaxes to scenes of anger, rejection, and her own frustrations. West makes those moments count, creating dread out of a camera’s movement (slowly spinning at one point, waiting for Pearl to pop into frame), while his editing then has its own brutality. Usually taking place in daylight and within Pearl’s psychosis, they’re meant to be played as dark comedy. That very mix of tone doesn’t hit as poignantly as it wants to, but the kills are effectively bracing. 

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