PEARL is the opportunistic prequel to X, shot partially due to the fact that Ti West and the crew of X were stuck in New Zealand during the pandemic, they were listless, and he certainly made the most of it by fleshing out the ‘X’ storyline.
PEARL takes place in 1918, during the height of the “Spanish Influenza” — conveniently having a writerly reason for masks while shooting through the COVID pandemic — and concerns itself with the youthful edition of the elderly murderous wife featured in X, the titular Pearl. Unlike X, this is more of a character study, but includes faux-Technicolor bravado mimicking the films of John Ford, George Cukor, and Douglas Sirk.
We get the back-story of young Pearl, a woman — a farmer’s daughter — who thrills in killing creatures and feeding them to the nearby crocodile (also featured in X), one that dovetails with her zeal to be immortalized by Hollywood, not unlike X’s Maxine’s go-for-broke need to be seen by others. Matters escalate, most notably regarding a local theater projectionist who has a thing for skin flicks, in which Pearl finds her agency.
While there isn’t much more on the page than that — and those expecting PEARL to be as blood-soaked as X will be disappointed — it features Ti West’s heartfelt warmth towards sympathy for his protagonists, as murderous as they may be. It’s slower, it revels in long shots and eye-popping color — a welcome change from the miserable desaturated hues of most films nowadays — but oddly ramps the visual tone up when necessary, including a jarring giallo-esque segue near the end that you’ll know when you see it.
I’m not surprised that he made this paean to 50s Technicolor melodramas, but I am surprised he managed to get it made, and I can’t wait to see MAXXXINE — the closer to the trilogy.