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Pearl Facts That Only True Fans Know About The Horror Gem

The horror genre has seen something of a resurgence in the last decade, with more and more horror films becoming a part of mainstream pop culture. A number of talented filmmakers are putting their mark on the genre, like Ti West, who has drawn great acclaim for his 2022 psychological horror slasher movie "Pearl," a prequel to "X."

Set more than a century ago in 1918, "Pearl" tells the story of the titular character Pearl, played by Mia Goth, who lives a lonely life on a farm in Texas with her parents. While Pearl awaits the return of her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) from the great war, her real dream is to become a movie star and make something of her life before her youth fades. But the circumstances of her life, and Pearl's dangerous tendencies, poison every aspect of life on the farm for everyone involved. 

Pulling from a wide variety of influences, including "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," "Pearl" is a difficult movie to pin down to any one genre or tone. What is clear is a large amount of talent and hard work that has been put into making the small-budget flick, which has drawn acclaim from all over the world. Here are some facts about the making of "Pearl" that true fans need to know.

Part two of a trilogy

"Pearl" is a case study of a murderous character that feels like an origin story for a supervillain. That is because that's exactly what it is. "Pearl" is not the first movie to feature its titular character, nor is it likely to be the last since the film is the second installment in a planned trilogy of horror movies by filmmaker Ti West. 

The saga actually began with 2022's "X," another feature by West. Set in the late '70s, "X" follows a group of men and women in their 20s who arrive at a lonely farm in Texas with the intention of shooting a cheap pornographic movie. The farm is owned by an elderly couple whose behavior grows increasingly demented with each passing hour until the guests find themselves fighting for their very survival.  

The female half of the elderly couple is a woman named Pearl, whose wish to be young and desirable like her female guests soon manifests itself as bloodlust. It is the same woman whose younger years are chronicled in "Pearl" to explain how and why she became such a heinous individual by the time of the events of "X." While Pearl meets her demise at the end of "X," the overall story will continue with a third movie in the series titled "MaXXXine." 

Pearl is influenced by Dorothy, Björk, and Baby Jane

"Pearl" often feels less like a slasher horror movie and more like a post-modern examination of the slasher horror genre and its treatment of its female characters. At first, the titular Pearl seems like a typical young and vulnerable heroine in a slasher flick who somehow manages to remain the sole survivor by the end of the movie.

But it soon becomes clear that Pearl is the slasher killer herself instead of the victim. This means Mia Goth had to portray a range of extreme emotions as Pearl, and the actress looked to a wide variety of past performances to help her prep for the role. In an interview with W Magazine, Goth noted that she studied the work of Björk in "Dancer in the Dark" and Bette Davis in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Perhaps most unexpectedly for a horror slasher movie, Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz" became a major source of inspiration for Goth's character and the movie as a whole. As Ti West told Filmmaker Magazine, "'The Wizard of Oz' was probably something I had Mia watch after doing X as a palate cleanser to get the 1970s out of her head." Certainly, Goth presents some Dorothy-like action when Pearl dances with a scarecrow in the field.

Creating the final monologue

"Pearl" is just as much about subverting slasher horror clichés as it is about enforcing them. Sure, you have a character like Pearl who goes around murdering folks with little to no provocation in time-honored slasher tradition. But you also have Pearl being treated as a multi-dimensional human being rather than a faceless presence to terrify audiences with.  

The best moment for making Pearl a person instead of a horror archetype occurs near the end of the movie when the character gets a 10-minute monologue during which she gets to express her frustration with her life and the disappointed dreams that caused her to act out in the manner she did. In an interview with Bloody Disgusting, director Ti West explained that the goal had always been to take a "flashy" slasher movie and turn its climax into something unexpected. 

"The climax of this movie should be about her psychological and emotional state," West explained in the interview. "[It's] not about something blowing up or some crazy thing like that." In keeping with that theme, the third act of "Pearl" becomes not about the main character going out in a blaze of slasher glory by taking down many more victims, but instead revealing her inner vulnerability to the audience in a highly subversive and compelling manner. Your move, Jason Voorhees.

Almost a black and white affair

One of the most noticeable things about "Pearl" is its bright, sometimes too-bright cinematography. Whereas most horror movies try to keep their colors muted for a somber tone, "Pearl" plays like a technicolor nightmare, as though the Mad Hatter from "Alice in Wonderland" hopped up from his tea table and embarked on a stabbing spree. 

What makes the color choices of "Pearl" even more unusual is that the project was initially conceived as a black-and-white feature. "Originally we wanted it to be a black-and-white film," lead actor Mia Goth told Collider. "A black-and-white film is cheaper, and we were just trying to incentivize [the studio] as much as possible to just let us make it." But the studio balked at the idea of making a black-and-white horror movie.

The team behind "Pearl" decided to go in the opposite direction by turning the film into a "demented Disney" affair where the garish colors serve to heighten the feeling that the audience is watching a murderous fever dream. For her part, Goth feels the movie would not have been as good if they had stuck to the original black-and-white plan.

A real stag movie

In a lot of ways, "Pearl" works as a metaphor for coming of age as the titular character unlocks her hidden passions after a lifetime of repression and unsatisfied desire. While Pearl is technically married, her husband has been away for a long time, and she is left chafing at home with her strict mother and paraplegic father. 

Leaving her farmhouse to go to the town for supplies, Pearl experiences brief moments of independence and burning passion, signaling her journey toward womanhood. A particularly compelling sequence in this regard occurs when a handsome theater projectionist (David Corenswet) Pearl befriends shows her a "stag film." The movie opens her mind to forbidden lust and begins her journey towards emancipation from her family in the worst possible manner. 

The film that Pearl sees in the theater is an actual stag film. "It was called 'A Free Ride,' aka 'Grass Sandwich,'" director Ti West told Slash Film. "I don't know if it's the first one ever, but it's one of the first ones that has been archived." Pearl's reaction to watching the film also mirrors the events of the sequel "X," where an elderly Pearl finds herself being filled with new desire and a murderous rage after learning that her guests are planning to shoot a porn film in her home. 

Mia Goth cowrote the script

The existence of "Pearl" came about in a much more roundabout manner than usual. It all started with "X," the movie director Ti West was making with Mia Goth in which she plays the lead character Maxine as well as the main villain Pearl, a frail old woman who turns into a psychopathic killer due to a mix of circumstances. 

While making "X" in New Zealand in the middle of the 2020 coronavirus lockdown, West decided that since they were in one of the few places on the planet where movies could safely be made at the moment, they should make another one while they had the time. In an interview with Digital Trends, West explained that because he didn't want to do a direct sequel to "X" with a similar plot, he decided to go back into the past to focus on Pearl's younger self.

"I was already talking to Mia a lot about Pearl's backstory because we catch up with Pearl very late in her life in 'X,'" the filmmaker stated. "We had to do a mandatory quarantine period to get into New Zealand, so we all had to sit in a hotel for two weeks. Eventually, I said to [Goth], 'Let's do it together.'" And so West and Goth spent two weeks collaborating over FaceTime and coming up with the script for "Pearl," for which Goth shares co-writing credit.  

Pearl and Maxine mirror each other

Since "Pearl" and "X" take place in the same reality set decades apart, it is worth comparing the two films to understand director Ti West's intention with certain characters. For instance, fans of "X" are often amazed to discover that Mia Goth, who plays the lead character Maxine in "X," also plays the villain Pearl under mounds of old-age makeup. 

This means Goth got to play both Pearl and Maxine in the same series, which was something West very deliberately set out to do. As the director told Slash Film, "Part of the reason why I wanted [Goth] to play both roles was we always thought of it as, 'They're two different characters, but kind of the same person.'" Much like Pearl, Maxine also dreams of becoming a well-beloved star and is not above using violence to get what she wants. 

Apart from the thematic significance, another reason West gave for having Pearl and Maxine be played by the same actress was that shooting the movie in such a manner would pose an interesting technical challenge. West's team certainly seems to have succeeded in acing the challenge, since the scenes in "X" where Pearl and Maxine are in the same shot are pulled off so smoothly it is hard to tell it's the same actress playing two roles. 

How the mother role got cast

One of the most important characters in "Pearl" is Ruth, the titular character's strict mother who rules the homestead with an iron fist. Ruth's role has a double significance in the movie. On the one hand, she represents the shackles of ordinary life that Pearl yearns to throw off to become a movie star like she always dreamed. 

On the other hand, though, Ruth is also the biggest factor keeping Pearl's psychopathic tendencies in check with her strict parenting style. Such an important role would normally have lots of competition while casting the part. But actress Tandi Wright secured the role after working as an intimacy coordinator on the sets of "X," where director Ti West became aware of her background in acting. 

"When we were thinking about casting Ruth in 'Pearl,' I said to her at lunch one day, 'Tandi, we're going to make another movie, you should audition for this.'" West told Looper. At first, Wright was reluctant to try for the part, but the filmmaker convinced her to give it a shot. Her audition went so well that West sent the tape to the producers, who were also deeply impressed and agreed to let Wright be cast as Ruth. 

A tribute to filmmaking

"Pearl" is far from a straightforward slasher film. Not just in terms of its story and themes, but the style of garish, Disney-esque moviemaking style on display in "Pearl" is very different from your typical slasher horror experience. This is something "Pearl" has in common with its sequel "X," which also showcases an atypical, guerrilla-style filmmaking technique.

Turns out, this was a deliberate choice on the part of writer-director Ti West, who wanted to use the two movies to get audiences involved in the actual craft of moviemaking instead of focusing on the story alone. As West explained to IndieWire, "Part of the reason they're making movies in this movie is to get the audience to have a crash course on the clumsiness of what it's like to make a movie."

According to the filmmaker, the intention is for audiences to see the characters in "Pearl" and "X" stumble their way around the moviemaking business, and thus gain a new appreciation for how difficult it is to create magic on celluloid. That is also why the films feature so many overt nods to classic movies from different genres like "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." 

James Cameron and Peter Jackson lent their hands

Audiences tend to think of filmmakers from different genres as operating in completely different circles and doing their own thing separate from each other. But the truth is there is a lot more overlap between filmmakers in the industry because they are drawing from the same pool of resources while making their movies. 

This was especially true during the 2020 COVID lockdown when filmmakers were scrambling to build teams and find locations to safely shoot their projects. This ended up helping out filmmaker Ti West while he was making "Pearl" in New Zealand, where director James Cameron had recently finished shooting the blockbuster sequel "Avatar 2," leaving the movie's technical crew with some downtime. "[I was like] 'we have the whole crew from 'Avatar 2' who's on break,'" West told IndieWire. "We should make two movies."  

And so West and the "Avatar 2" crew quickly scrambled to put together the sets and props for "Pearl" in record time. Here they were helped out by another major filmmaker Peter Jackson in a more indirect manner while searching for era-appropriate cars to put in the movie. "A big part of the reason [we found the right cars in New Zealand so easily] was likely Peter Jackson," West told Rue Morgue. "He has one of the largest WWI collections, and there are a lot of car collectors down there as well, so the Model Ts–and left-hand drive ones were actually pretty easy to find." 

Is Pearl evil?

"Pearl" is one of those very rare slasher movies where the main protagonist is also the slasher villain. This means the audience gets to see both sides of the titular Pearl, the repressed little girl longing to find freedom and acceptance, and the ruthless killer who enjoys torturing her helpless father and killing defenseless animals. 

So what do you make of a character whom you feel sympathy for and repelled by in equal measure? That is the question actress Mia Goth had to wrestle with while playing the role of Pearl. The actress decided that her character was not irredeemably evil, but rather the unfortunate product of circumstances beyond her control and desires that overpower her sense of morality. 

This was the point of view that Goth explained to ComicBook.com in an interview, stating, "Had [Pearl] grown up in a different time, possibly with different parents that were more supportive, encouraging, I don't believe that she would've gone down the route that she goes on." The actress further adds that Pearl is not a "cold-blooded killer," which would bring the character closer to Leatherface than Jason Voorhees on the slasher killer spectrum in terms of their personal motivations. 

The second sequel to Pearl

"Pearl" and "X" are the two parts of a planned trilogy of movies that filmmaker Ti West is in the process of crafting. Aside from being slasher horror flicks set in the past, both movies share the common theme of having protagonists who are driven by a great desire for fame and acceptance no matter what obstacles are placed in their path. 

While Pearl was the protagonist of the first movie in the trilogy, she became the villain in the sequel "X," where a new protagonist named Maxine succeeds in killing Pearl and fleeing from the farmhouse at the end of the movie. The next and final film in the planned series will be called "MaXXXine," following the story of Maxine after the events at the farmhouse as she continues with her pursuit of Hollywood stardom. 

A teaser for "MaXXXine" was added to the end of "Pearl" during a select few screenings. In an interview reported by Collider, West stated that the upcoming final part of the "X" trilogy will "be more about within the [film] industry itself and the boom of VHS." Naturally, Mia Goth will return to play Maxine. It will be interesting to see if her new character, like Pearl, makes the transition from protagonist to the main villain in "MaXXXine."