pearlA24’s latest offering, is a depraved little house on the prairietold in bold colorful sequences that might as well be bespoke, slasher QG photoshoots, where Mia Goth gives a demented and endearing performance, revealing the genesis of how a serial killer became a serial killer. This is the prequel to the horror movie X, following its title character as a young woman growing up in the war-torn Spanish Flu-era south with her cold German mother and invalid father, where people break their lungs in movie theaters and you must wear a mask to talk to someone outside your family. Pearl’s husband is at war, and she passes the time dreaming of a life as a showgirl on the big screen, battling atop a local scarecrow, decorating her table with a maggot-infested suckling pig and continuing his training as a serial killer by feeding animals. to a hungry alligator living in a swamp on the ground. The claustrophobic setting of the farmhouse, with its abandoned dormitory and gruesome storeroom, will be familiar to viewers of Xwhich is set in the 1970s and follows a group of amateur pornographers who are murdered while shooting a movie on the farm by its elderly landlady: an octogenarian Pearl, also played by an unrecognizable Goth.
Pearl is a convincing anti-heroine, sexually and intellectually repressed, childish by her mother, claustrophobic, aware of her own potential as well as her own finery. Her only respite is trips to town to buy her father morphine, which she gulps down while sneaking into the movie theater. She is prone to angry outbursts and terrifying near-acts of violence; she doesn’t hesitate to wheel her father to the edge of the dock to feed him to the alligator, only to be stopped by her mother. It’s not until Pearl’s mother accidentally catches fire that we see how deeply removed she is. His answer ? Not to help him, but to kick him down the stairs.
But it’s later that Pearl hits her breaking point, after giving it her all in a dance audition she says will be her ticket out of town, only to have her “blonde, younger sister-in-law ” in place.
“Pearl is a very ambitious young woman. And really, I think that’s where most of his frustration comes from. Because she believes in herself more than anyone else in the world, and no one ever really sees that,” Goth tells NYLON. “That conflict is the source of a lot of her frustration because she’s so limited and suffocated by the environment she’s in, the time she was born into.”
Goth and West wrote the script for Pearl in two weeks while quarantining in hotel rooms before traveling to New Zealand to film X. Creativity is often born of restraint, and in the case of pearl, it was also born out of economics. West thought he could convince A24 to let him use the set to pearl make two movies, since they were going to be there anyway.
“It was so long. It was so unlikely. We were always like, ‘Well, worst-case scenario, it’s two weeks of wasted time, and we can at least use that as backstory. for the character, and it will be very informed, and X will be better for her,” West said. “That was the coping mechanism if it didn’t happen – and now we’re telling you about the movie we ended up making.”
pearl is out now.
What is the genesis of pearl? When did you know you wanted to do this? Has he always been part of the X universe?
Ti West: It wasn’t always part of it. X was a screenplay that I had written and that we had put together and cast Mia. We were going to New Zealand to do X because it was at the height of COVID, and you could safely make a film in New Zealand. We had put a lot of effort into sorting out New Zealand, finding a crew, getting people there and getting visas. We spent a lot of time and effort and money building a barn and a dormitory and stuff to make this movie. Years before, I had made a film called The sacrament, where we built a compound where a cult lived. We built all these little houses, and we had 150 extras there, shooting all the time. It was a real community that we basically created and spent over a month in. When we’re done with this movie, you just tear it all down, and it goes in the trash, and you go home. It’s such a strange feeling, and I’ve never felt it more than when I was on this movie. Anyway, here we are doing something similar in New Zealand, in a very uncertain time for movies, and really, for everything in general. It just seemed to me that if we’re going to this place to do this and we’re so lucky to be the ones who can do this, we should try to do two movies and just stay there and do this. I had no idea for a second film, and a sequel to X using all the same stuff didn’t make sense: more people go to a farm and get killed, it wasn’t really a movie there. What started to make sense was to go back and tell a story about Pearl who was one of the most interesting characters in Xbut when she was younger, because we don’t meet Pearl until late in her life in Xand we don’t meet her until late in the movie anyway.
Mia, it’s really a unique experience as an actor to be able to play these roles that have so much meat in their stories. Did one help inform the other in your performances?
Mia Goth: It was a very unique experience, and it certainly did not escape me. The preparation I made for Maxine informed the old Pearl, who also informed the young Pearl. And so everything I did for one character informed all the other characters that I was playing. The amount of prep and backstory I was able to create for these three women ended up being very rich, and I had a lot to draw from.
I am so interested in the sexual repression of young Pearl, which is very well done. Do you think that’s really where most of his anger is coming from?
Goth: I wouldn’t say the majority. I would definitely agree that this is a contributing factor to the aggressiveness she has. Pearl is a very ambitious young woman. And really, I think that’s where most of his frustration comes from. Because she believes in herself more than anyone else in the world, and she’s truly able to see her potential. No one ever really sees it. But she knows. And that conflict is the source of a lot of her frustration because she’s so limited and suffocated by the environment she’s in, the time she was born into. There are so many things preventing her from blossoming into what she could have become.
This feeling of being stuck is really showing up because she feels like she’s developmentally delayed. And in other ways, she’s very mature because she’s seen so much darkness as well. She lives a war. What was it like finding that balance between her innocence and all the darkness she lived through and saw?
Goth: I wouldn’t call Pearl as innocent as I would say she’s more naive in everything. It was truly a joy to be able to play someone who is so complex and not just one note and who is, really, perfectly imperfect and just a living, breathing, vibrant human being. I thought she was very close and could very well understand how some days she could be much nicer, and other days she was dealing with a lot of pent up emotions. I think that’s how we’re all built, really.
What is the breaking point? What’s the last strike that makes her start killing people?
West: I think an accident triggered it. And then I think once it’s in motion, it’s kind of a no-go back thing. I think getting to the point of auditioning and getting to the point of trying your best, only to get rejected, then that reflects everything you do. And that no plan B she had is now suddenly thrown back at her. I think that’s, in many ways, probably his biggest breaking point.
Mia Goth: Yeah, I think her at the dance audition and being told no is really the breaking point of the movie. Because yes, she walks around killing people. But really, at that audition, that’s where she sort of dies. A big part of her dies and with her dreams and her own hopes she had for herself. And really, that’s what she’s faced with once she leaves that audition.
There are so many beautiful, grotesque, wonderful shots in this movie. Do you have any favorites or ones that are particularly compelling to you?
West: Anything with the pig is pretty awesome. At the table with the pig, it was quite disgusting to film. Maggots were everywhere. It was very memorable, watching everyone running around trying to pick up maggots off the table.
Goth: I think Ti did such a great job. Him and Eliot Rockett, our DP, I think they created such a lavish world. Really every scene, it was just designed in such a beautiful way. The one that’s really close to my heart is the whole scarecrow sequence. It’s like a painting.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.