TIFF 2022: Pearl Review

Pearl (Mia Goth) is a small-town girl with big-city dreams. It’s 1918, her husband is off fighting in the war, and she’s stuck living with her parents on a farm in nowhere Texas.

Pearl feels suffocated by her family. She spends her days looking after her sick father (Matthew Sunderland) and taking orders from her religious fanatic mother, Ruth (Tandi Wright). So who can blame her for wasting time fantasizing about a life in show business? When the aspiring star feels daring, she sneaks off to the movies behind her mother’s back.

When talent scouts come to town looking for the next all-American star, it’s Pearl’s chance to live out her dreams. But Ruth won’t let her wide-eyed daughter chase sin-filled pursuits. Here’s where things get interesting: there’s darkness simmering inside of Pearl. And the conflict with her mother brings her violent impulses to a head. This psychotic young woman will stop at nothing to get what she thinks she deserves. So when the evil inside her finally erupts, things get messy.

Pearl is a Ti West movie, so all the death and carnage that unfolds is a given. But this bloody origin story doesn’t take itself too seriously, either. The movie’s playful undercurrent keeps the disturbing material from feeling as gruesome and heavy as a Saw film.


It helps that the film’s cinematographer Eliot Rockett shoots Pearl’s world like a musical from Hollywood’s golden age – imagine Fatal Attraction’s unhinged villain Alex Forrest showing up in The Wizard of Oz, and you get the picture.

Tyler Bates and Tim Williams’ heavenly score helps establish the deceivingly light tone. The vibe jarringly shifts from music fitting for a Disney princess to something closer to a Bernard Herrmann thriller. I use Herrmann as a reference because Pearl has an unmistakable Hitchcock vibe.

If the series’ previous film X was an homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then Pearl is riffing on Psycho, but from Norman Bates’ point of view. Pearl is a twisted character study that takes its time ramping up to the violence. This movie goes to dark places, but it’s not oppressively bleak since West dials the camp metre up to 100.

Goth’s knockout performance as Pearl is what holds it all together. She brings layers of depth to this broken human being. I felt for the character, even as she repulsed me. It’s like watching a car wreck in slow motion.


You understand Pearl is off her rocker right from the movie’s start. But her behaviour becomes more erratic once she’s put under pressure. Watching her steady unravelling had me on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t wait to see what perceived slight would finally push her over the edge. I couldn’t look away as Pearl’s megalomania overtook her last shreds of humanity.

This story may take place 100 years ago, but its themes couldn’t be timelier. Pearl’s deranged entitlement captures what’s fueling so many conflicts today. She would rather throw tantrums and burn the world down around her than follow rules she doesn’t like.

Today we’re seeing more and more people rise to fame receiving praise for their shameless self-interest. And society can’t function when individuals insist on only living by rules that suit them. It’s the same instinct that drives people to cry voter fraud rather than live under a president they didn’t vote for.

Pearl may be a fictional character, but her sociopathic me-first mentality reflects a very real threat. I don’t have to tell you which prominent politicians rose to fame flaunting their Pearl-like impulses. The film is a clever commentary on society’s hunger for fame and the entitlement that breeds it.


As much as I enjoyed Pearl’s companion piece, X, the film didn’t leave me pining for a spinoff. So I’ve got to come out and say, my bad. Pearl is all kinds of fun, and I’m thrilled it exists. I’ve done a total 180 and I’m down to see more stories about this demented farmer.

Much like James Wan’s Malignant, Pearl is a love letter to trash cinema. West celebrates what folks love about campy horror films without looking down on the material. X, Pearl, and Malignant are lowbrow films treated as highbrow art.

If you’re not into horror movies, trust me, there’s nothing for you to enjoy here. But if you appreciate a quality slasher flick, get ready for a blood-soaked treasure.

Pearl screens as a part of TIFF 2022, which runs from September 8 to 18. Head here for more from the festival.