American writer, director, and editor Ti West has returned to the 79th Venice International Film Festival, this time with Pearl. The film is designed as a prequel to his last film, X, also released in 2022 and starring Mia Goth. This time West and Goth have written the screenplay together. The movie, produced by American production company A24, tells the story of the same lead character from West’s last film, the young girl Pearl, also played by Mia Goth.

A young girl’s dream

In X Pearl was something of a murderous monster, young, and pretty, and this time the action casts back to 1918, the years of the Spanish flu epidemic, while the news shows the last tides of the Great War. Pearl’s family lives on an isolated farm. The girl has to care for her paralyzed father (Matthew Sunderland) while following her mother’s (Tandi Wright) strict and paranoid rules, while secretly dreaming of starring in the movies.

Image courtesy of Christopher Moss

With her husband away at war and with the constraining situation at home, Pearl escapes from reality by going to the movie theatre and watching showgirls’ pictures. There she meets the projectionist (David Corenswet), who sees in her beauty and talent, and later discovers that there will be a dancing audition in town. With a growing interest in the lucky opportunity, as well as with intensifying transgression and rage, Pearl starts showing her true face: she is going to hurt everyone who stops her from getting what she wants.

Horror in technicolor

The most notable element of Pearl is the catchy classic-movie style. Everything, from acting and costumes to music and editing, recalls the aesthetics of the first technicolor movies that came from Hollywood. Although not in line with the actual time setting of Pearl, but rather with a general sense of what is  past, this makes everything more vivid and sunny. Just like Ari Aster taught us with Midsommar, though, a bright and colorful horror movie can strike as hard as the darkest ones, when the blood starts pouring.

This also affects Pearl’s appearance. On the outside, she is lively and smiling. She sings in the barn addressing cows and geese (and the lake alligator) by name. She dresses in bright colors, a mix of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Lewis Carroll‘s Alice. But this is just the facade: when everything cracks and Pearl realizes how hard it can be to be who she wants and do what she dreams of, the only color coming out and around her will be red.

Mia Goth (left) and Ti West (right) on the red carpet for Pearl – Image courtesy of Andrea Avezz

The new wave of terror

Mia Goth recites when her character finally confesses everything she has kept inside, including her most horrible actions. Other than proving the actress’ undeniable talent, this single-shot soliloquy fuels the movie with intensity and a sense of depth that most horror stories struggle to attain.

The warm, enthusiastic reception of Pearl at its premiere screening confirms once again the growing interest from the public in such arthouse-like horrors. With two successes in a row, Ti West promises to become yet another director to keep an eye on, if one likes the mix of terror and art.