Ti West’s Pearl answers the question of what if Dorothy never went to Oz. Feeling like a deranged mix of Wizard of Oz—there is even a scarecrow scene—meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Pearl combines a fantasy feel with a riveting turn with Mia Goth as Pearl and shocking bloodshed. X from Ti West was graphic, disturbing slashing horror that analyzed the patriarchal, puritanical restrictions society place on girls and women via a slasher flick. The elder Pearl’s obsession with youth but bitter resentment made people wonder about her younger years. That brings us to Pearl, Ti West’s prequel that shows a younger Pearl (Mia Goth) on the brink of high-caliber murderous mayhem. 

Pearl Has An Oz Opening That Feels Off

Pearl still of Pearl (Mia Goth). Courtesy of A24

The beginning is all swelling music that sounds hopeful and uplifting. Though the music is too extravagant when Pearl is not a musical, it works. It felt like Pearl could burst into an unhinged song at any moment. Given her dance aspirations, the music is as it should be. The duality between her appearance of gentleness and innocence, with her obsessive, deadly nature compliment the rising and falling music. Still, there is something beneath the surface. Though Pearl is at her worst in the movie, you cannot tell if she was always mentally unstable. Or if her circumstances created a perfect storm of slaughter. 

Moms Can Be Toxic AF

Pearl still of Pearl (Mia Goth) laying on steps and hugging her mom, Ruth (Tandi Wright).
Pearl still of Pearl (Mia Goth) and mom, Ruth (Tandi Wright). Courtesy of A24

Her mom is controlling, and though married, Pearl lives with her mom, Ruth (Tandi Wright), and her dad (Matthew Sunderland) while Howard (Alistair Sewell)—soon to be partner in crime as evidenced in X—is fighting in WWII. I understand it was a different time, but there are still parents like Pearl’s mother. Parents who feel their children owe them care because of their sacrifices. From the looks of their relationship, Ruth does not have a hug or a kind word for Pearl, just orders. Pearl’s character brings to mind the real-life story of Lizzie Borden and the fictional Stephen King character Carrie White. 

Pearl latched onto Howard, whose family is wealthy, hoping for freedom from her life and the farm. The grass is greener phrase applies because she envies Howard’s life, but Howard prefers the quiet farm life. Howard’s action—living as a farm hand, marrying Pearl, seeing Ruth’s treatment of Pearl, and then still going to war makes his love questionable. In the end, it does not matter if Pearl is mentally ill or not, as the cage Pearl is in is no less restrictive. Ruth says Pearl does terrible things, and while true, it is unclear if nature or nurture is the root cause. 

Pearl Is A Victim Of Society And A Victimizer

Pearl still of Pearl (Mia Goth) and projectionist (David Corenswet) riding in a car.
Pearl still of Pearl (Mia Goth) and projectionist (David Corenswet). Courtesy of A24

Pearl also exhibits Karen-esque moments in Pearl—like her shrieking. Another white woman that springs to mind is Love Quinn from You, as Pearl, knowingly or not, creates a situation where murder is the inevitable conclusion. In life, both good and bad, when we are uncertain about what path to take, something occurs that pushes us toward one road. For Pearl, it is the dance auditions and the projectionist (David Corenswet), two things she thinks will give her freedom. Pearl believes she deserves more in life. Her hope curdles, resentment and violence frothing up.  

Once one death, albeit an initial accident at first, occurs, it unleashes Pearl’s pent-up anger at her unfulfilled life. I do not know, between the deaths, Pearl’s smile and taking a bath while her incapacitated father sits in a wheelchair beside her, which is more alarming. All scream warning bells as piercing as Pearl’s shrieks. The body count is not as high as X, but each death is meaningful as Pearl sheds her dreams for more with each life she takes.

Images That Sear Into Your Memory
Pearl still of Pearl (Mia Goth) on stage curtsying in front of an audience.
Pearl still of Pearl (Mia Goth). Courtesy of A24

The ending was disconcerting, so I could not get up even though the credits started rolling. I was both transfixed and horrified by Pearl’s expression. Mia Goth does superb work, and that last image will haunt me for a while. Pearl, like Dorothy, learns “there’s no place like home,” but the lesson does not come from a fantastical journey but a fatalistic, tragic one. As unhinged as Pearl is, the movie Pearl also captures the stifling constraints family and society place on girls and women.

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