Earlier this year, Ti West’s “X” was released: an intentionally jarring 70’s homage to slashers that spoke out about age, sex and sexuality; one of many experimental projects to come out of this year. The prequel “Pearl” surprised me, not just because we got it so soon but because…..I think I enjoyed this more.
Unlike the previous outing, Ti’s directing has almost completely shifted. Sure, the presentation maintains that manufactured, intentionally Grindhouse aesthetic from before and he, again, lies in wait to unveil the carnage, focuses on character work and sets the mood first and foremost. But balancing out the old with the new and making sure they co-exist is never easy; it’s a delicate and precarious tightrope balancing act very few pull off well. Here, his direction is reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell nightmare.
One of the other reviews I checked dubbed Mia Goth as “the Judy Garland of horror”. A pretty bold statement but after viewing both movies back to back, I can see honestly why. This sexually charged, identity-starved character would not have worked nearly as well if it wasn’t for Mia Goth’s dedication to playing someone so completely self-aware of their psychological deterioration.
I adore the old school pastiche cinematography and meticulous editing working in stereo, it’s garishly colorful with surreal imagery that adds to the otherworldly indulgences of our protagonist, production design comes to life due to intricate staging and composition once again, the surprising tonal shift early on is acceptable, pacing is carried out with slow yet swift thematic weight, West uses its many influences smartly without browbeating the audience or pushing the film's content completely into pastiche (although it does come close), and unlike it’s successor, the ambiance that overtakes everything that happens feels more melancholy than fun, further carried out by the beautifully haunting music and the calculated kill scenes that uses its brutal violence sparingly.
The story paints as vivid of an abstract Jackson Pollock portrait as I had hoped; messy and uncontrollable but balanced and strongly evocative of human nature at once; taking us back to the early days of Technicolor, idyllic fairy tales and the corrosive power of Hollywood. Hollywood is no stranger to taking the piss out of many peoples dreams and showcasing just how ridiculously out of reach fascination in the limelight can really be but it also serves as a cautionary tale of the consequences that lie with suppressing one’s desires, both carnal and otherwise.
Repression appears to be the thing that gets people killed in these movies, emotionally more than physically and this disturbing and strangely heartbreaking portrait of a person who, upon finding that her search for meaning and validation from others leads her nowhere, is then only capable of destroying them……goes swiftly in hand with the previous films fixation of youth, virility and the mourning of lost time.
With that being said though, the plot can be fairly straightforward if you see this coming a long way away…..which I did. Not to mention, the dialogue tries too hard to mimic old films of the past to sometimes cringeworthy efforts, dark humor wasn’t as funny as intended and some of the story beats felt a little tacked on or rushed.
But that’s barely a blip on the radar as far as I’m concerned.