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"Pearl" 4K & "X" Reviews

 Doing something different this time in that this double-feature are directly related movies which we watched in reverse order than they were released. But first some background for those not familiar with the gimmick.

In March 2022, snooty film snobs favorite studio, A24 (the 21st Century's Miramax), released an art house slasher movie titled X about a ill-fated group making a porno film on a rural Texas farm owned by an elderly couple in 1979. It was quite buzzy because it was an A24 joint and who the killers were. But where it got interesting was when it was announced that they had already filmed a prequel about the origins of the old woman, Pearl, in X titled Pearl which would be released in September 2022, just six months later, and that a sequel, MaXXXine, would be coming in 2024 continuing the story of (spoiler alert) the survivor of X

The final film of the trilogy opened this weekend meaning it'll be on video in a matter of weeks and since I was interested in that one, I figured it was time to catch the first two. I'm not a big horror movie fan, but the missus is and she'd seen X and Pearl, but suggested we watch them in reverse order because she thought it wouldn't change the story and wanted to see how it'd play. So that's what we did and thus this tag-team review.

 Set in 1918, Pearl introduces us to the titular character (Mia Goth) in a subversive manner by introducing this farm girl as she feeds the animals in the barn while 1940s style credits play before she impales a goose on a pitchfork then takes it down to the lake to feed to an alligator. Swell girl!

Her husband, Howard (Alistair Sewell), is off fighting the Great War, and she's under the thumb of her strict dour German immigrant mother, Ruth (Tandi Wright), and caring for her invalid father (Matthew Sunderland). Pearl dreams of being a dancer and sneaks off to the picture show where she makes the acquaintance of the projectionist (David Corenswet, the new Superman in James Gunn's upcoming reboot). This angers her mother and leads to lethal family drama.

 Since I hand't seen X I had no context as to what Pearl was supposed to be about other than as a small story about a sad bad seed farm girl. But what is interesting is how director Ti West filmed and color-graded the picture like a Technicolor Douglas Sirk melodrama. Usually movies set in old times go for a muted nostalgic tone like the Kansas scenes of The Wizard of Oz, so it's a jolt to see it look more like the Oz part of the film. Presented in 4K HDR on Amazon Prime, the colors are so hot, bright, saturated and amped up it looked like the garish Vivid picture mode on TVs that only lunatics prefer. Skin tones are flushed and primary colors like red and green are searing. It doesn't look like genuine Technicolor, which was a three-strip process that resulted in a very specific color tone, but it's definitely a look.

 The story, co-written by Goth with West, is fairly simplistic, more designed as a showcase for Goth with a couple of standout scenes like her confession to her kind, wealthy sister-in-law, Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Purro), of the very bad things she's done filmed in a long take without the obligatory cutaways to Mitsy's reaction which makes the eventual reaction shot an interesting choice. The final shot almost borders on camp, though.

 With that down, it was time for the next chronological entry in the series, X, which leaps forward six decades with Goth playing the double-role of elderly Pearl (unrecognizable under makeup which took 6-8 hours to apply) and Maxine Minx, one of the performers in The Farmer's Daughter which the producer/strip club owner Wayne (Martin Henderson) hopes to be bigger than Debbie Does Dallas

Along for the production are fellow performers Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi, bka hip-hop artist Kid Cudi), director/cameraman RJ (Owen Campbell), and his girlfriend/sound recordist Lorraine (Jenna Ortega). Things get off to a rocky start when Pearl's husband Howard (now played by Stephen Ure) greets Wayne with a shotgun because he forgot he had rented the farm's bunkhouse to him though he is unaware of the plans to film a porno movie there.

 Filming gets off to an uneventful start, but take a turn in the evening when Lorraine decides she wants to film a scene much to the consternation of RJ. Upset in the aftermath, he attempts to leave in the group's van only to find the driveway blocked by Pearl. He attempts to assist her back inside, but she has other ideas about his immediate life expectancy - not really a spoiler because the movie opens with the Sheriff's department on the scene with lots of bodies covered in sheets before doing the "24 Hours Earlier" thing - so we're off to the races as Porn Makers vs. Psycho Octogenarians begins. Who will survive? (Hint: The one who has another movie set in the 1980s opening this weekend.)

The whole hook for X is the unique killer(s) which changes up the usual Giant Supernatural Unkillable Monster formula. We've seen a bazillion slasher films, but outside of Mrs. Vorhees in the original Friday the 13th, how many have been older villains, much less really old? As opposed to the gaudy colors of Pearl, West (who also wrote and edited) goes for a grimy Seventies grindhouse vibe and it's a trip seeing the bright pristine red barn and yellow house all run down and grungy with age. It's also fun to spot the callbacks (or in this case foreshadowings) in shots and the lake gator.

The performances are all good with the cast fleshing out the stock characters nicely, albeit laying on the Texas accents a tad thick. Goth is so hidden under the Pearl makeup as to raise a legitimate question as to why not simply cast an older or different actress, but West felt that it was important to have a link between Pearl and Maxine. (It does raise the question why Maxine doesn't notice young Pearl could've been her twin.)

Taken as a package, X and Pearl, are an adequate horror movies with a couple of good gimmicks. Both could be a shorter and Pearl is the slightly weaker film because like the flop Furiosa, it's an unnecessary origin story that doesn't add much to the original for those not curious about everyone's backstory.

Scores: Pearl 5/10. Catch it on cable/streaming. (Currently in 4K HDR on Amazon Prime)

 X: 6/10. Catch it on cable/streaming. (Currently on no services, but available to rent/buy)



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