By Savina Petkova
‘One day you’ll never see me again.’ A young woman lets out a sigh, head resting on a barn’s fence, as she tells a cow her long-held wish. All dreamy-eyed and gullible, Pearl (Mia Goth) hopes to one day become a star and escape her farm-bound existence in rural Texas. Not only that, she’s convinced that life has fame in store for her as a touring Tiller girl, high-kicking her way across the country. The year is 1918: World War I is still rumbling on, the Spanish flu has the world in a chokehold… and, through it all, one girl’s individual dream burns bright, a secret she whispers to livestock. So begins Pearl, the second film of horror master Ti West’s ‘X trilogy’, whose events take place 60 years prior to the bloodbath that was last year’s X (the series’ final chapter MaXXXine is due for release later this year).
X introduced Pearl as an ailing old lady (played by Goth under heavy prosthetics) in 1979, the host to an adult-film crew shooting a skin flick on her property. Soon after their arrival, she sets off on a killing spree, envious of her guests’ youth and freedom, and is particularly triggered by X’s (porn)star Maxine (also Mia Goth). By turning back the clock, Pearl gives insights on the character’s troubled background and contextualises her traumatic bond with being young, being a desiring woman and, most of all, being a star. As presented in the film, stardom is a moving target, both empowering and exploitative.