Starring Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro
Written by Ti West and Mia Goth
Directed by Ti West
Produced by Jacob Jaffke, Ti West, Kevin Turen, Harrison Kreiss

Sadly and unfortunately, modern-day filmmakers continuously and increasingly display a nearly-complete inability to craft intelligent, stylish, inventive and above-average horror films, to the point that producing a quality horror movie is close to being a lost art.

And that’s more scary than most horror movies released during the last twenty years.

Of course, it’s true that among all movie genres throughout the entire history of film, the horror category, in general, has probably suffered the most in terms of releasing the highest number of flat-out horrid, horrendous and awful movies that have cast waves of fright among moviegoers–not because of how scary the movies are, but because of scarily bad the movies truly are.

But something scary has happened with the genre during the last two decades: The general awfulness of horror movies has reached a new, depressing low. Horror movie after horror movie has simply been terrible on all filmic levels–acting, writing, dialogue, directing, production, cinematography, lighting, editing, pacing, blocking, music, art and set design, costuming, production design, style, class, mood, atmosphere, originality, inventiveness, cleverness, intelligence, insight, commentary, foreshadowing, suspense, thrills, chills, scares, and, strangely, considering the many advances in technology, even with poor-quality make-up, visual effects and special effects.

Some defensive filmmakers may cry and whine about increasing production costs at all levels, but, sorry, no, that doesn’t cut it. Hundreds of talented horror filmmakers have expertly shown through the decades that they can indeed craft a quality scarefest on a lowered, limited budget.

Some defensive filmmakers may cry and whine that modern-day audiences are more jaded and are more difficult to scare. Sorry–you’re wrong there, too.

Actually, any of the lame, often childish arguments that aspiring horror filmmakers tend to spew forth just don’t hold up. The frightening truth is, simply, most filmmakers these days just can’t seem to rise up, meet the challenge and make a truly high-quality, intelligent, scary, suspenseful, well-crafted horror film.

All of that said, and it does need to be said, two of the more recent sad, sorry, downer and depressing examples of the continual degradation of horror filmmaking have been released just this year, in 2022: the idiotic and ridiculously bad “X,” which was released in March, 2022, and, now, it’s prequel, “Pearl,” which is set for a wide release on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.

It’s distressing, but honest, to report that “Pearl” is just as ridiculously bad, idiotic, unoriginal, unimaginative, unscary, classless, stomach-upsetting and headache-inducing-disturbing and flat-out moronic as its predecessor. The best advice, in the tradition of every other cliched horror movie, is to turn around and run–RUN!! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, FOR GOD’S SAKE!–away from any movie theater unfortunate enough to show “Pearl” this weekend of Sept. 16-18, 2022. In fact, run outside and enjoy the beautiful summer weather forecast for the weekend of Sept. 16-28, 2022! It would indeed be horrific to have to sit in a movie theater, suffering through the psychotic, sick and bleak images darkening the screen in “Pearl” while the warm sun still shines and summer retains its bright, happy life in the great outdoors.

What, exactly, is wrong with “Pearl?” Just about everything–except for a boffo, movie-stealing, dynamic and genuinely impressive acting performance by the movie’s lead actress, the beautiful, sexy and charismatic British actress Mia Goth. But even though Goth delivers a standout performance, nevertheless, in a very real sense all of her hard work is wasted due to the general poor quality of everything else filmic around her.

“Pearl” fails miserably with its writing, direction, production, pacing, timing, editing, cinematography, music, mood and atmosphere. The movie isn’t scary, tense, suspenseful or frightening in any way. That’s a bit unfortunate for what’s supposed to be a horror movie.

The story, script, dialogue, plot, characterizations and story and plot developments are cliched, unoriginal, overly familiar, unimaginative, course and just dumb at times. There’s an attempt at good writing, but even that attempt is clumsily, amateurishly mishandled. Director and co-writer Ti West, who co-wrote the generally awful script with Goth, gives Goth, as Pearl, a long, increasingly revelatory and truth-revealing monologue, but the scene eventually goes on too long, the tension evaporates and the viewer starts to wonder just when the rambling will ever end. It’s clear that West and Goth were aiming for some type of classic, inspiring monologue, but any monologue needs to sustain interest and tension and continually move forward. Goth’s big monologue simply eventually runs out of air and succumbs to its own over-indulgence. The rest of the dialogue in the movie seems to have been stolen from a thousand other bad horror movies.

The direction, except for letting Goth act at a consistently high level and except for one interesting dance scene that is entertaining but, on one level, is completely out of synch and out of character in relation to the rest of the movie, is just overall amateurish. West doesn’t seem to understand that a good horror movie needs restraint, subtlety, tension, suspense, mood, atmosphere, a touch of class, style, mystery and a genuine ability to scare the hell out of people. West fails at all of these levels.

The production fails, but fails on an interesting level, too. West was somehow, for some odd and misguided reason, trying to pay homage to movies from the 1930s to the 1950s. He includes classic Technicolor colors, hues, shades, gels, lighting and color schemes–but none of it makes any filmic sense in the context of a dumb, overly-gory, grossly bloody, needlessly-disgusting, insanely depressing modern-day stark and scareless slasher B-movie. Why have Technicolor, old-fashioned production, coloring and lighting schemes if it all drowns, smothers and eventually dies amid the decay of everything else around it? Thus, much like Goth’s strong acting performance, the attempted glossy, retro, nostalgic production, set, costume, hair and art design are all wasted because of the movie’s overall self-destructive poor quality.

And, what, precisely, is at the core of “Pearl’s” overall poor quality? The simple fact that the movie, just like “X,” doesn’t really have much of an intelligent story to hold everything together. In both movies, basically, here’s what happens: A bunch of people are gruesomely, grossly, gorily and senselessly killed in unnecessarily graphically violent ways by a completely insane psycho. And that’s it. Yes, there’s an attempt to provide some type of justification in “Pearl”–“X” had just about zero explanatory justification–but the attempt is cliched and poorly executed.

Both movies seem to simply wallow in some sick, demented mode of only waiting to see who gets killed next in some random bloody, violent method in an upcoming scene, and another scene soon after that. But, gasp, you exclaim, surely one knows that this is the method of operation for hundreds of prior slasher movies. Yes, yes, of course that’s known–and it’s also known that most prior slasher movies, which have been seen in this corner in large numbers, have been just as awful, terrible, horrible, bad and stupid as “Pearl,” “X,” and most of these other crappy modern-day horror movies.

Which brings us full-circle. It doesn’t matter that hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of horror movies are, basically, repetitive, cliched, gory and full of stupid–yes, stupid–scenes of people getting violently and bloodily killed. That doesn’t make it all any better. The fact remains that most horror movies are just bad. A horror movie needs to be more than just seemingly endless stupid scenes of stupid psycho crazies killing stupid people.

And “Pearl” needed to be more than the title character, Pearl, a beautiful, repressed, psychologically abused farm girl living on a remote farm in 1918 in the United States, simply running around killing people, which is basically all that this movie is, in general. Pearl lives a tortured, sheltered life on her family’s farm with a chillingly psychotic, mentally abusive mother who seems to have forgotten that the Victorian era ended a while back, and a nearly-comatose, mute, wheelchair-bound and paralyzed father. The mother is crazy, the father can’t do much at all and is near death, and all Pearl wants to do is escape. On top of everything else, Pearl’s young husband is off overseas fighting in World War I.

When Pearl’s well-meaning sister-in-law, Mitzy, well-played by Emma Jenkins-Purro, kindly encourages Pearl to audition for a dance company as a way out, Pearl sees, and seizes on, a potentially life-changing, and life-saving, opportunity. And the kindly, also well-meaning town movie theater projectionist, also well-played by David Corenswet, also encourages Pearl, and shows a gentlemanly romantic interest in Pearl. Suddenly, things seem to be looking up for poor Pearl.

But, alas, poor Pearl is really pathological psycho Pearl. One by one, scene after sickening, unsettling–in a bad way–scene, Pearl just, well, starts to kill people–actually, the entire main cast. She kills her mom, her poor dad, her well-meaning sister-in-law and the well-meaning projectionist. If you can stand it–and anyone with half a mind won’t–Pearl violently fights with her mom, let’s her burn during the fight when the mother’s dress catches fire from a fire in the fireplace, and then leaves her to rot and die in the basement; Pearl actually smothers her paralyzed, wheelchair-bound father with a pillowcase; she gruesomely stabs the projectionist with a pitchfork to the chest; and she kills her well-meaning sister-in-law with an ax. Then Pearl chops up Mitzy and feeds her to a nearby alligator. Really.

In “X,” in a similarly sick and depressing manner, here’s what happens: a bunch of annoying, irritating film cast and crew members in 1979 go to a farm to shoot a porn movie and then each of them is systematically killed. As it turns out, the film cast and crew in “X” were killed by an older version of Pearl. In “Pearl,” you get a younger version of Pearl running around killing people.

Really, didn’t the world get tired of all of this stupid slasher stupidity after what seemed like the hundredth “Friday the 13th” movie, the hundredth “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie, the hundredth “Halloween” movie, the hundredth “Chucky” movie, the hundredth “Saw” movie, the…well, you get the idea.

Are we really all that stupid to keep going to all of these terrible movies?

And West blatantly tries to pay homage to a bucket of blood’s worth of prior horror and fantasy movies in “Pearl.” There’s references to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” “Carrie,” “Misery,” “Psycho,” “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?,” “The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Friday the 13th,” and “Children of the Corn,”among others. But even these lame attempts at being clever don’t work, either. In order for an homage to work effectively, the reference has to be used in a clever manner in connection to the main story, plot and setting. In “Pearl,” the filmic references don’t connect in a clever way to the overall story, and, again, they just are not effective.

The only thing left to talk about that’s worth talking about in relation to “Pearl” is Mia Goth. Mia is absolutely, stunningly beautiful–she has a mysteriously captivating, mesmerizing beauty that leaps off the screen right into your heart. Alas, filmmakers generally have not capitalized on Goth’s beauty, presence, charisma and talent. Nearly all of her roles and films, except for her appearance in the excellent 2020 version of “Emma,” have wasted her talent. It’s time, now, for Goth, her agent and filmmakers to stop casting Goth in schlocky, campy B-movies and to start giving her decent roles in decent films.

It’s time for these folks to follow the advice that Mitzy and the projectionist give Pearl: The time to act, to seize your opportunities, to properly utilize your talent, to chase and achieve those dreams and to use that immense beauty, presence and star quality, is now, while you’re still young and hungry and beautiful.

In “Pearl,” Mia Goth showcases an interesting, exciting, inventive glimpse of her talent and just what else could be performed in better roles in better movies. There are scenes in “Pearl” where Goth explodes in abrupt furies of rage, sadness, madness and insanity. At times, she’s Norman Bates, Michael Myers, Carrie White and Annie Wilkes all tightly wound up together into one bizarrely, strangely beautiful psycho killer down on the farm, so far over the rainbow she’ll never really get back home.

Goth delivers an impressive, praiseworthy performance in a lackluster, depressing and ultimately disappointing movie. She deserves so much better, and hopefully that opportunity will arrive soon.

In the meantime, the wayward Ti West and the equally wayward A24 studio have already announced, even before “Pearl” has been released, that they plan to release a third movie in this series, “MaXXXine.”

That, folks, is now the scariest aspect of this entire mess of a morose, moronic movie series. Run. Run for your lives.


Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.