Keepin’ It Reel: “Pearl”

After marathons of horror movies over the last couple of months, I have become largely desensitized to the genre. Rather than feel the adrenaline rush and fear associated with the films, I tend to be bored unless it is particularly gory or frightening. However, the newest A24 movie, “Pearl,” managed to thrill me in a way that most recently released horror movies haven’t been able to.  

A prequel to the previously released “X,” “Pearl” tells the origin story of the murderous, sex addicted antagonist of the first film. Going into the movie, especially with the knowledge of her crimes in “X,” we knew that it would be disturbing. However, the most disturbing aspect was the active crumbling of Pearl’s young mind in a post-war, rural America.  

Though I do not often like psychological thrillers as I tend to disagree with how they portray the main characters, “Pearl” portrays mental health disorders in a beautifully frightening way.  

From the start, we see her fascination with killing small animals and her inability to empathize with her mother’s life. Her limited and convenient emotional abilities place her in the category of a sociopath, with most of her actions and behaviors inciting a feeling of wrongness in the viewers.  

In the beginning of the movie, despite the random, small acts of violence, Pearl simply seems like a naïve, albeit creepy, young woman. We find out that she belongs to a German immigrant family with a disabled father and suffering mother. She is completely isolated on the farm due to her mother’s fear of influenza (an interesting correlation with our own pandemic) and seems to have escaped in her own mind.  

When an opportunity for freedom presents itself in the form of going to a pharmacy for her ailing father, Pearl bikes into town with her mask, purchases the medicine and then sneaks into a movie theater to see dancers.  

We had already seen glimpses of Pearl’s obsession with dancing and her own fame while she talked with the farm animals, using her catchphrase “I’m gonna be a star.” Seeing her at the movie theater though, mesmerized by the dancers, there is a note of hysterical fascination.  

Pearl leaves the movie theater and goes into an alleyway where she meets a handsome stranger, a bohemian man who runs the picture house. This interaction, along with the dancers, is the first domino to fall in her story. 

I will not spoil the movie for anyone, but I will say that the psychological components of Pearl’s character are fascinating. She possesses enough humanity in some of the scenes that it is sometimes confusing to determine whether she deserves sympathy or hatred. She’s a narcissist and a sociopath, but some of her reactions to situations are eerily relatable (especially for women).  

There is something raw and poignant within her story, despite the insanity and violence, that can be attributed to the female experience. When all is said and done, she just wants to be loved.  

I think this movie could also spark an interesting conversation on the relationship between duty and suffering, and the impact of both upon the mind. The dynamic between Pearl and her mother is both heartbreaking and frightening, and the juxtaposition helps convey the disconnect between Pearl’s mind and reality.  

I encourage all of you to watch this movie if you are a fan of horror. A24 has a fantastic track record in the genre (“Midsommar,” “Hereditary,” “X,” etc.), but “Pearl” is special. Hopefully, those of you who do choose to watch it will enjoy it as much as I did.