One of last year's biggest surprise treats was Ti West's throw-back slasher X. Taking the style of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and adding in a little Boogie Nights for good measure the porno-kill fest features a winning ensemble of horror staples – Brittany Snow, Jenna Ortega, Mia Goth – while also dove tailing into a strange melancholic mid-section that explored ageing and the desires we have even as we get older.
Most audiences were surprised then to learn that West and Goth had already written, and shot, a prequel to the film – Pearl. Instead of a 70s grind house-style movie we get a horror-infused melodrama. We meet the titular character in her prime, a young, virginal farm girl on the brink of madness, desperate to escape her overbearing mother and her ailing father for fame and fortune.
While X was a fun ensemble piece that melded good jokes – Kid Cudi's massive penis, Brittany Snow wiping semen off her backside, Jenna Ortega shooting porn in Sunday pants – it was also a gore-filled shriek-fest. What Pearl opts to do is to do for young fame hungry women what Joker did for boys who didn't leave their basements.
Mia Goth dominates the film, given pretty much the entire screen to fill and the runtime to stretch her legs – this is entirely her domain and as Pearl she gives a horror performance for the ages. The melding of slasher and melodrama – what were once called “Women's Pictures” – is genius with false matte-painting skies baring down on Pearl's ever increasing sense of desperation. Like Lupita Nyong'o in Us and Toni Collette in Hereditary, this is a horror performance that will be spoken of for a while.
It's no surprise that West is able to ape the editing, camera composition and direction of the old-Hollywood movies. He's a director who can mimic the classic styles to fit his film, and Pearl is as confident example of his prowess as any. Both he and Goth clearly love smashing horror into another genre and there is ample moments here to make the skin crawl before the finale kicks in.
While the film might not be as crowd pleasing as X, it's definitely one that will find it's fans, and that may come down to Goth's barnstorming one-shot monologue or her declaration that she's a star. As West continues to take moments in the history of cinema and explore them through a horror lens, this is a fascinating instalment and bodes well for maXXXine, which most will be anticipating with baited breath. This is Mia Goth's world and we're all just trapped watching it play out.
Pearl releases in UK cinemas on Friday 17th March