TIFF 2022 REVIEW: Mia Goth Catches the Light in ‘Pearl’ (2022)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“An ode to the dawn of cinema and a reminder of the death of the American Dream.”

At the height of the Spanish Influenza and the coup de grace of World War I, an isolated farmhouse occupies acres of land in the southern United States. Inside lives Pearl (Mia Goth), a spirited and passionate young woman with big dreams of being a starlet. Her parents are the main culprits preventing this— an infirmed father who needs around the clock care and an autocratic mother who wishes to confine Pearl within the boundaries of the farm. Pearl’s fervor to lead an illustrious life drives her to rebel; while out on a medicine run for her father she sneaks off to see a picture, ‘Palace Follies’. She watches wide-eyed as the dancers on screen kick their legs high in the air and strut across the frame, knowing one day it will be her up there. That night, before laying her head to rest, Pearl wishes upon a shooting star that something incredible happens to whisk her away from the dull pastures and thrust her into fame. Fate calls the next morning when her sister-in-law Mitzy (Emma Jenkins) visits the stables to announce the local church is holding auditions for a touring dance group. Pearl insists with gritted teeth, “It has to be me”; she will do anything to have the world know her name. 

Though the film is a prequel and origin story to X, the slasher released six months prior, Pearl is a standalone fable that checks all the boxes the former was unable to. A gem in bright technicolor, Pearl nails the over-the-top satirical exuberance that X was trying to achieve but ultimately failed in. The grindhouse style that echoes the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a horror trope too often attempted and rarely stands out, and that was X’s downfall. Pearl is something completely different. It’s an ode to the dawn of cinema and a reminder of the death of the American Dream. It’s The Wizard of Oz if Dorothy was on her way to the psych ward instead of Emerald City. Larger than life in its visual style and aesthetics but at its core is about the human struggle, emotional and psychological— that’s what makes Pearl defy the norms of the genre. In an interview with Deadline Mia Goth says, “It’s been dubbed as a horror movie but I think it’s far more than that, the real horror lies in her dreams dying.”

Image Courtesy of A24

Goth is the crucial defining factor of what makes Pearl as great as it is. She is in every frame of the movie and co-wrote the script with director Ti West. She brings warmth and empathy to a role that could have been labeled as a demented and unforgivable antagonist, had any other actor taken it on. In the last twenty minutes of the film alone Goth executes more skilled performing than most of the scream queens that came before her. Audiences have seen Goth take on distinctive and impressive roles before in films like Suspiria, Emma and High Life— but this particular role doesn’t just top her own filmography, it cements her as one of the most exceptional actresses in cinema today. 

Dir: Ti West

Prod: Jacob Jaffke, Ti West

Cast: Mia Goth, David Corenswet

Release Date: 2022

Available on: In Theaters Sept 16, 2022

Trailer: Pearl | Official Trailer HD | A24