Movie Review ~ Pearl

The Facts:

Synopsis: Lusting for a glamorous life like she’s seen in the movies, Pearl’s ambitions, temptations, and repressions collide in the stunning, technicolor-inspired origin story of X’s iconic villain.
Stars: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro
Director: Ti West
Rated: R
Running Length: 102 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  With social media being so prevalent and movies screening far in advance, it can be hard to keep a surprise under wraps for long in the movie business. If you don’t want information spoiled for something as simple as a TV show, you need to stop using your social media or race to watch it before no-goodniks can reveal the secrets. No one has much respect for spoilers anymore, even if you ask nicely. (So, you’re welcome for 10+ years of non-spoiler reviews!)

**DISCLAIMER: It’s impossible to talk about Pearl without revealing key plot points about X, released earlier this year. If you prefer not to know anything about that movie, read no further. Everyone else, let’s go!**

I tend to stay for all the credits at the end of a movie (hey, the one time I skipped it was for Don’t Look Up, and I regretted it!) because you never know if there will be any additional footage of note. When the credits were nearly over for Ti West’s gonzo horror film X, I began to trek out of the theater along with the handful of remaining audience members. As the screen went black, it seemed the movie was over. Then, suddenly, a preview for Pearl appeared. Wait, what? Yes, Pearl, the wicked old killer granny from the film we watched, was getting her origin story in just a few months. West had pulled off a rare feat in Hollywood, shooting two movies back-to-back when most thought only one was coming.

To hear West tell it (like I did at a recent Q & A), coming out of the pandemic and realizing his time filming X in New Zealand might be his only chance to film for some time, he figured why not use the resources already there and create two movies while on location. Devising inspiration from star Mia Goth, West collaborated with her on the screenplay for a prequel set in 1918 that would tell the story of Pearl’s early years on the farm. Greenlit before they even filmed X allowed West (The Innkeepers) and Goth (Suspiria) to let that movie inform what they’d do on Pearl, and it shows in this new movie, a horror film that goes deeper and darker into a twisted mind.

An origin story is maybe the wrong term to use for Pearl. Call it a snapshot of a turning point in her life when Pearl moved from one stage to another. A war bride living on a Texas farm with her German immigrant mother and invalid father, Pearl dreams of a life bigger than baling hay and milking cows. Looking down on her hard-working mother, who scoffs at her daughter’s dreams of fame, the two women are constantly at odds. Even more than doubting her child, Ruth (Tandi Wright, Jack the Giant Slayer) sees a darkness that frightens her. We see it too, understanding that Pearl isn’t a figure that is turned sour; she probably always was inclined toward murderous impulses that cause her to lash out.

A local dance competition gives hope of an opportunity to get out of town and tour, something Pearl sees as the start of her suitable career. Going to the movies in town (which happens to be in a panic about the Spanish “pandemic,” hence why everyone is wearing face masks), she meets a handsome projectionist (David Corenswet) who encourages her to go after what she wants without letting anyone stand in her way. He also shows her a ‘European’ film showing an act that is “legal to do, but not legal to shoot.” (One of several gentle nods to X.)  Pearl falls for the Projectionist despite being married, but it’s not without repercussions. Tensions at the home rise to a boiling point and quickly escalate, sending Pearl on a familiar rampage.

Like X, Pearl takes its time building each character, letting them come into clear focus before allowing any of the nasty stuff to happen to them. I’d say Pearl waits even longer, which keeps it all the more of an intriguing film. It’s ultimately more of a study of the downward spiral of dreams and the way a demented mind chooses to deal with this loss. You don’t want to root for Pearl, but, in a way, you do because you’ve had those same types of disappointments. The difference is we don’t take a pitchfork to the person that didn’t live up to our expectations. The violence and make-up effects in the movie will satiate the horror hounds in the audience (and they are indeed spectacular), but the performances will resonate and frighten the most.

You can see why West has focused on Goth as such an inspiration. A fierce commitment from the English actress compels you to keep watching. She doesn’t quite fit into the period like you think she would (maybe that’s the point?), yet you can’t imagine any other person playing the role. In X, she handled the double duty of playing Maxine and the older Pearl like a champ, even fooling me for much of the movie. Here, she’s only got one role but is featured in every scene. It’s all told from her perspective, so we experience it with her. There’s a sequence near the end (confirmed by Goth as her favorite in the film) where she and actress Emma Jenkins-Purro share a conversation at a dinner table that’s as mesmerizing to watch as any haughty awards-y drama you’ll see this year. Goth gives a one-take monologue for upwards of six minutes that’s jaw-dropping. If only the Oscars had the cojones to nominate a performance like this, you’d know they take every genre seriously.

I also thought Wright, as Pearl’s emotionally withholding mother, was brilliantly executed. At first, you think she’s just a typical parent that can’t let their kids have their own lives, but Wright reveals in bits and pieces why she’s built up this wall between her and her daughter. It’s a challenging portrait to paint, but it is nicely done. Kudos to Jenkins-Purro for sharing the film’s most crucial scene with Goth, holding her own, and then staying out of her way when Goth must go big. 

Not that this is a secret, seeing that it has been all over the news, but a third film has already been announced (but not filmed), and if you stick around to the end of Pearl, you can see the teaser. MaXXXine is set in 1985’s Los Angeles, and if it continues this winning streak of West/Goth, I can’t wait to see what horrors they find in Hollywood. Until then, while you don’t need to see X to enjoy Pearl, I’d make it a double feature and catch both 2022 entries for major fun.

Movie Review ~ X

The Facts:

Synopsis: In 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, but when their reclusive, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast finds themselves fighting for their lives.
Stars: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure
Director: Ti West
Rated: R
Running Length: 115 minutes
SXSW Review: Here
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: We’re all about honesty here at The MN Movie Man, so I can share with you that as excited as everyone was when A24 and Ti West dropped the trailer for X a few months back to announce its impending arrival, I wasn’t drooling like most.  Don’t get me wrong, the release of any modestly budgeted horror film is a cause for celebration because it continues to give clout to a genre often overlooked or dismissed entirely.  There was something about how the preview presented itself, as this extreme answer to our humble prayers for blood, guts, boobs, and gore that rubbed me the wrong way.  Even going as old-school as you want, that’s not what defined the best movies in the genre – intelligent construction and creative ideas pushed the film into the history books.

I had to search through my closet to find a hat I didn’t mind chewing on because after seeing the completed film, I’m finding that I need to eat my words a little.  As crazy f***ed up as the previews for West’s movie have been so far, A24 has saved the best stuff for audiences waiting to see stars Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Martin Henderson, & more in this gore-gy of old-school bloody scares.  Set in 1979 and enjoying every second of it, it’s raunchy and randy more than anything, with the actual violence erupting in spurts.  Spending his time directing television for the last six years, West is back on the big screen with what is sure to be a high-water mark for his career.

Forgiving the film for starting at the end, with a Texan sheriff arriving at the scene of a bloody massacre and then jumping back 24 hours to where it all began, you’re instantly back in that transitional time between the carefree pre-AIDS period of the late ‘70s before the ‘80s welcomed in a new reality.  Young Maxine (Goth, Suspiria) stares at herself in the mirror, delivering the kind of “You’re going to be a star” pep talk many young women likely did before entering a world from which there is no looking back.  Here it’s the universe of adult entertainment, a business her boyfriend Wayne (Henderson, Everest) is hoping to break into by making a cheap XXX-rated film with a few friends over the weekend.

Loaded into a van with co-stars Jackson (Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, Don’t Look Up) and bottle-blonde Bobby-Lynn (Brittany Snow, Pitch Perfect), along with crew members Lorraine (Jenna Ortega, Scream) and RJ (Owen Campbell, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), the group is headed for a secluded farm Wayne rented cheaply for the weekend.  Arriving at their location shoot, they find old-timer Howard (Stephen Ure, Mortal Engines) and his wife Pearl (both under layers of well-designed latex to age them) not exactly offering a warm greeting.  Paying little attention to several red flags, including a nearby lake that’s got an alligator problem, the gang commences their shoot…and stirs up the murderous instincts of their hosts in the process.

The beauty of the horror in West’s film is how what we’ve come to associate as traditional horror almost takes a significant backseat to the horrific realities of the time and place the movie is set.  Through signage and television programming, we’re constantly being shown images of religious revivals that feel oppressive.  There’s a feeling from all that they might be able to do something different with other talents (Bobby-Lynn sings, accompanied by Jackson in one well-orchestrated sequence), but it’s their place in the pecking order that has left them choosing porn as a ticket out of town.  That most pay with their lives for that ambition is the real tragedy of the story.

Please make no mistake; it’s terrifically gruesome as well.  Always creative in the way he offs characters, West (The Innkeepers) spares no one an easy death.  Like Tarantino so expertly does, your mind fills in many of the blanks, so he only has to suggest what is happening, and the grisliest violence happens off the frame, but it’s so visceral you’ll swear you actually saw it.  It’s all well designed by a crack team of visual artists, with the effects in that department and the overall prosthetic make-up being a star attraction.  One character is so utterly dependent on that make-up design, and I won’t say who, that a large part of the success of the performance is due to our not being able to see the rubbery creases when they move their head.

Speaking of performances, while horror traditionally isn’t known for its strength in this area, West has a full cast of dependable talent, and no one disappoints.  Snow takes on a decidedly adult role for, I think, the first time in her long career.  Campbell and Ortega (having a whopper of a 2022 already) make for an intriguing couple as we watch their romance crack under the production of the adult film. Henderson is a hoot as the producer with stars in his eyes; watching the 48-year-old run around in a thong for an extended period shows he is game for fun.  It’s all about Goth though, playing a tricky role that I have to be careful revealing too much.  Most reviewers will go the distance and tell you, but I’m going to hold back and let you discover it as I did.   Anchoring the movie with a confidence that is more than just Final Girl bravura, Goth has created a one-of-a-kind leading lady, and it will be her calling card role for quite some time.

I tell you often to wait for the credits to roll to see what happens at the end, but with X, I can’t stress enough how important it is to wait until the end.  There is something at the tail end of the movie that you absolutely, positively, must not miss.  It’s worth those extra minutes, and you won’t be sorry you stayed.  By that point, you’ll be riding such positive adrenaline waves courtesy of West and his crew that you won’t mind. 

Movie Review ~ You’re Next

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When the Davison family comes under attack during their wedding anniversary getaway, the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of victims harbors a secret talent for fighting back.

Stars: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Nick Tucci, Wendy Glenn, Joe Swanberg, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton, Maragaret Laney, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Larry Fessenden, Lane Hughes, L.C. Holt, Simon Barrett, Calvin Reeder

Director: Adam Wingard

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Oh I really wanted to like this movie a lot more.  Believe me.  We all know how the ever-lovin’ hype-machine can set the bar so high that not even an Olympic long jump champion could fly over it.  Unfortunately that’s what happened with my viewing of You’re Next, a film I probably would have rated higher had I not gone into it having read so many articles claiming it’s the Next Big Thing in horror.

Completed in 2011 but getting its debut now, you’d think that the movie had some sort of black mark with its overly long time on the shelf.  Well, it turns out that it was actually a smart move to hold the film back until now because back in 2011 audiences were still saturated with slasher films of decreasing quality and increasing stupidity.  Really starting with 2012’s Cabin in the Woods, the horror genre has undergone a slight maturity because viewers are demanding something a little bit more than just gobs of blood and guts.

Though the 2013 remake of Evil Dead and May’s The Purge did respectable business there wasn’t anything spectacular on the horror front until July’s The Conjuring.  Arguably one of the best horror films of the last decade, the haunted house fright flick laid its claim to scariest film of the year and no matter how good You’re Next was it was always going to have to settle for at least second place.

Yet You’re Next and The Conjuring couldn’t be more different in their methods.  Where The Conjuring earned its R rating without any blood, foul language, or nudity, You’re Next gleefully bathes in the sinewy awfulness of its R by serving up death at its most painful.  Stabbings, bashings, and more throat slashing than I could stomach (slit throats have always spooked me), and one truly original death by household appliance are all on display…You’re Next doesn’t let anyone die easily.

All this would be an hour and a half of twisted terror…had it not been for the fact that the movie is nearly equal parts black comedy as it is gory horror.  Comedy isn’t anywhere in the preview for the film and I have to say I was disappointed in how much the movie struggled with its teeter-totter balancing act between laughs and screams.  That’s not to say the movie can’t have its cake and chop it to bits too…but the comedy element was treated in the marketing materials like a dirty secret.  Had the movie marketed its winking aspirations to be a next level Scream, I think I would have been more prepared for the final product.

As it is, you never really know if director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett are really accomplishing what they set out to do.  Are we supposed to be siding with the various members of an average family as they battle vicious masked killers that come a-callin’ just as they are sitting down for an anniversary dinner?  Or are we meant to root for the killers to snuff out several family members with personalities no one will miss.  Though the bitter comedy bits do land successfully, they feel out of place with the rest of the slicing and dicing.

Also out of place is a lumpy stew of actors cast in roles that they don’t seem to fully be right for.  Though 80’s scream queen Barbara Crampton looks great for her age, I never once bought that she was the mother of these adult kids…but it’s not like Crampton goes to great acting lengths to do her character any favors either.  It’s fun to see various members of the next wave of horror directors pop up in bit parts with The Innkeepers director Ti West getting right to the, um, point of his cameo.

It’s the one outsider (of the family and the creative collective that sit in front of and behind the camera) that makes the most impact.  Australian Sharni Vinson (Bait) bides her time on the sidelines until she’s called up to the plate as a survivalist that gives the killers a taste of their own medicine.  Though the film creaks as it winds down with several interesting twists that surround a Home Alone-type booby trap ending, Vinson is an appealing presence throughout.

I think I’d like You’re Next more on a second viewing and if I’m being honest I liked the film more as I let it sink in.  Maybe it’s not the movie I wanted it to be but there’s more than a dose of cleverness going on here and at least it’s not another endless sequel made as a quick cash grab for its studio.  It’s probably more effective to be seen in the security of your own home…though you’ll probably check that the doors and windows are locked one extra time before you turn out the light.

The Silver Bullet ~ You’re Next

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Synopsis: When the Davison family comes under attack during their wedding anniversary getaway, the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of victims harbors a secret talent for fighting back.

Release Date: August 23, 2013 

Thoughts: If the advance buzz is to be believed, You’re Next is one damn good horror film.  Now, I always try to take that kind of praise with a grain of salt because one person’s Cabin in the Woods could be another person’s The Apparition.  Still, the slick and scary new trailer for the horror film releasing this August gave me more than a few chills.  The home invasion genre has been done well recently (2008’s The Strangers) but it seems there’s more terror to mine from a fear we all have about our general safety while at home.  Director Wingard and several of the cast/crew were also involved with the underrated gore-fest V/H/S in 2012 and if that film is any indication, You’re Next will be a twisted throat-grabber aimed to produce maximum screams.