Pearl (2023)

March 15th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Ti West; Cast: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew  Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro, Alistair Sewell; USA/New Zeland/Canada 2022, 103 min.

Going into the cinema and expecting the worst excesses from slasher movies makes Pearl a satisfying surprise. This neo-classical noir is a sister feature for John M. Stahl’s Leave her to Heaven (1945) where the brilliant Gene Tierney played a twisted socialite with a fetish for killing. Director and co-writer Ti West (X) takes a leaf from Stahl with this refreshing new creation.

Pearl – whose aesthetic of garish candy colours also channels Stahl’s feature – sees the titular young woman (Goth, also the co-writer), living on a homestead in the American countryside with her parents. The First World War is on its way out and Pearl is expecting the return of her husband Howard (Sewell) in the big city. But her repressive German Mother (Wright) hates the idea of her daughter having any fun and envious because Pearl’s father (Sunderland) is an invalid: mute and wheelchair bound.

It soon emerges that Pearl has a penchant for killing their farm animals and feeding them to her pet alligator in the lake. The beast appears like a faithful dog on Pearl’s command while her real pet canine has already fallen victim to a compensatory killing spree. Out of frustration, Pearl has taken to humping a scarecrow and also fancies herself as a dancer, and when Mitsy (Jenkins-Purro), Howard’s sister, gets wind of a local dance competition, with the best selected to entertain the soldiers, Pearl is only to keen to join up, supremely confident she will prevail.

But first there is the uncomfortable matter of Pearl’s affair with the local projectionist (Corenswet), who promises to take her to Europe. When the visit is not forthcoming, she uses a pitchfork to drive her message of disappointment home in a fit of pique that knows no bounds involving a variety of vicious weapons and victims. After accidentally setting Mum on fire and smothering Daddy, the last person standing is Mitsy, who bears the brunt of Pearl’s anger after losing out on the dance competition. An axe comes in handy and finally Pearl can sit down to dinner. But hold your horses: Howard is on his way home.

The humour is deliciously deadpan There is even a moving scene near the end when Pearl is cuddling up to Mum, listening in her mind to an old German lullaby from back in the day.  Pearl combines originality and past values of the horror/noir genre with an antiheroine who gradually finds a place in our hearts with her relatable revenge campaign – after all, most of us are occasionally tempted to follow her example. The difference here is that Pearl has lost her inhibitor reflexes which prevent ordinary people from running amok. DoP Eliot Rockett ensures the grisly deeds are as understated as possible in this highly entertaining shocker. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 17th March 2023

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