It is nearly impossible to review a sequel without considering it in the context of its preceding film. Pearl
, Ti West’s follow-up to the 2022 slasher, X
(that’s two films in the same series within a year, folks), is a more subversive genre bender than its predecessor and presents the audience with a complex portrait of X
’s primary antagonist. The film is rife with the inevitable easter eggs meant to service the fans of the series’ first installation, but recognizing these callbacks proves to be the least interesting part of the sequel experience. Pearl
manages to construct its own world of meta references and existential conflicts without relying on the fleeting shock values that made X
a uniquely self-aware slasher.
Mia Goth (who has executive producing and co-screenwriting credits
) reprises her role as Pearl, a young farmgirl with aspirations for stardom during the boom of Hollywood’s golden age. The film opens with a credit sequence and orchestral score reminiscent of the golden age itself, and throughout its exposition and crucial plot points, deploys the storytelling tropes and performative characteristics of golden age films. Pearl, dreamy-eyed and doe-like a la Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz
, describes her delusions of grandeur and her escape from rural isolation on the family farm to the kindly barn animals while she pines for her betrothed, Howard, who is fighting overseas in WWI. Her harsh, austere mother discourages those dreams as not only frivolous, but a total abandonment of her responsibilities to care for her paralyzed father and to help maintain the farm.
Pearl’s isolation is exacerbated by the outbreak of the Spanish flu. The film presents this plot point as a timely parallel to COVID-era social distancing and masking precautions, though it feels more like a failed attempt at relevancy since approximately 95% of the theater in NYC’s east village was unmasked. The Spanish flu detail becomes entirely irrelevant by the second act.