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Pearl Director Ti West On How A Movie Set In 1918 Is Relevant To Today - Exclusive

In independent horror filmmaker Ti West's new movie, "Pearl," British actor Mia Goth plays the title character, a young woman whose repressed life on her family farm with her domineering mother and incapacitated father makes her yearn to escape and seek the kind of glamorous fantasy life she's glimpsed in the movies. As Pearl's mind slowly crumbles, she becomes determined that no one will stand in her way, even at the cost of their lives.

A prequel to West's earlier 2022 movie, "X," in which Goth portrayed the elderly version of the character in the 1970s, "Pearl" was shot three weeks after "X" was completed, using many of the same crew members, sets, and locations. Both were filmed in New Zealand when COVID was still raging around the world, but the country's strict protocols made it possible for West and his team to make the movies under safe conditions.

"Pearl" is set in 1918, when the world was in the grip of another deadly pandemic: the Spanish Flu, which killed as many as 50 million people (if not more) around the globe. In the film, people are seen wearing masks as they go about their daily lives, and several of the characters are terrified of getting sick or catching the disease from someone else — an eerie parallel to what the world has gone through in recent years thanks to COVID.

"This is something that's going to be relatable to quite literally everyone on earth," West told Looper in an exclusive interview. He further discussed the way that the time and place in which "Pearl" is set intersected with modern-day real life.

Pearl acknowledges the pandemic – just not the current one

While there have been exceptions — like movies made in lockdown that are actually about being in lockdown (via Vulture) — many films and TV shows released in the past two years seem to take place either before or after the coronavirus. It seems as if filmmakers and TV creatives are still grappling with how to address such a world-changing event (via CNN).

That's what makes "Pearl" unique: By setting the movie more than 100 years ago, during one of the worst pandemics to ever sweep the planet, Ti West's film addresses the current state of society on an indirect level. West says that the whole subtext came together in an almost organic fashion.

"We were all going through it to an extreme at the moment we were writing it," he explained. "But when you subtracted the age from Pearl to get her back to an appropriate age for the movie, it landed right around 1918, which was its own miracle from a modern storytelling standpoint. It made sense — this is something that's going to be relatable to quite literally everyone on earth, and it was one of those strange things that aligned that made sense."

West added that "Pearl" may end up with an extra resonance for modern audiences, since the movie shows people going through things — isolation, masking, taking extra precautions — that weren't even on our radar three years ago. "If we had made this movie five years ago, you'd see people wearing masks and being worried about getting sick, and you would have been like, 'I remember there was a flu back then,'" he said. "But now it's, 'I know what that's like.'"

"Pearl" is in theaters now.