Xtra! Xtra! Double Feature!
A review of the films “X” and “Pearl” by Ti West
Written by: Jake Ryan
Warning: This review will contain spoilers for both “X” and “Pearl.”
By the time the credits began to roll, Pearl (Mia Goth) had peered through my soul with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face. Despite the fact that it had been over three hours, I still wanted more.
Rewind to earlier in the evening when I began watching “X,” written and directed by Ti West and starring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell and Cleveland’s own Kid Cudi. The film follows a group of promiscuous young adults on the road in rural Texas as they attempt to achieve stardom by making an “adult” film. Their film location is a small, secluded farmhouse owned by an elderly couple. At first, you think the old couple simply won’t like the young filmmakers because of their raunchy and “devilish” behavior, but you quickly come to realize that it goes much deeper than that. The setting sun spells doom for our characters as each of them is killed off one by one by the mysterious old woman and her husband: except for one, Maxine (Mia Goth). Maybe it’s fate, maybe it’s luck or maybe it’s because she has the “X-factor” — unlike one of the film’s main villains and the farm’s matriarch, Pearl (also played by Goth in special effects makeup).
Maybe it’s fate, maybe it’s luck or maybe it’s because she has the “X-factor”
One of the things I appreciate most about this movie is its style. It pays homage to the films of the era in which it is set. Its grainy, dirty, “shot-on-film” look is akin to the low-budget horror films of the 70s, specifically “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” This is something that you don’t typically see nowadays with modern horror movies. The film is also genuinely unnerving at times. Without going into too much detail, a particular scene near the end involving Maxine and the old couple in a bedroom will leave even viewers with strong stomachs with feelings of unease and disgust.
The prequel to “X,” “Pearl,” was released in September of this year, just five months after “X” was released in March.
Set nearly 60 years before the events of “X,” “Pearl” follows Pearl (still played by Goth, who co-wrote the film alongside West), a young farm girl whose sole desire in life is to leave her home behind and follow her dreams of stardom. However, she is held back by her controlling mother (Tandi Wright), an incapacitated father (Matthew Sunderland) and a husband who is overseas fighting in the Great War (Alistair Sewell). After going into town one day to pick up some medicine for her father, she takes the time to see a film at a local theater. The town is filled with people wearing masks due to the Spanish Flu outbreak, an eerie historical parallel to our own real-world experiences. While there, she meets a projectionist (David Corenswet) with whom she comes to have an affair. This awakening fills Pearl with hope that maybe one day she can be a star “just like the girls in the pictures.” Her mother, however, has different ideas, and is determined not to let Pearl leave her home. Her mother’s decision leads the two into a fight, causing her mother’s violent end at Pearl’s hands. At the climax of the film, Pearl auditions for a national dance troupe at her local church. Despite her best efforts, she doesn’t secure a spot. When she asks why, one of the judges responds by saying she lacks the “X-factor.”
In a similar fashion to its predecessor, “Pearl”’s style is based on the films of the time. Its bright, lively color scheme and cinematography resembles that of “The Wizard of Oz” in stark contrast to the unsaturated, gross look of “X.”
Much of what I didn’t like about these films can be easily boiled down into one word: nitpick.
The cast in both films do a spectacular job, but the one who really steals the show is Mia Goth in her dual roles. Her haunting performance in “Pearl” culminates in a nearly seven-minute monologue near the film’s end. It’s implied in both films that Pearl is a sociopath, and this monologue serves as a confession. She knows something is wrong with her, but she doesn’t know what. Given the time period both films are set in, it’s unlikely she would receive the proper help she needs.
Much of what I didn’t like about these films can be easily boiled down into one word: nitpick. The only major fault with “X” is its pacing. The film can be a bit slow at times, especially in the beginning, which may lead to boredom among some viewers. “Pearl” almost has the opposite problem. The pacing of the film is fine, but the way it presents its content is totally different. There isn’t much in terms of a plot in “Pearl”; it is a character-driven movie, which some audiences may not enjoy.
Watching nearly three and a half hours of anything can be a chore, especially when it’s two entirely different movies back-to-back. But in the case of “X” and “Pearl,” that is the best way to enjoy these films. This isn’t even the last we’ll see of Ti West and this series, as a sequel “MaXXXine” is set to release sometime in the near future.
No review would be complete without an obligatory score at the end to summarize the contents into one numerical value.