ALSO: "A BEAUTIFUL TECHNICOLOR PALETTE THAT HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH 'THE WIZARD OF OZ' FOR SOME REASON"
In an article at Style Weekly headlined "Tortured Artist Blues," Chuck Bowen reviews Andrew Dominik's Blonde and Ti West's Pearl:
Embracing a cheeky tone and a beautiful Technicolor palette that has something to do with “The Wizard of Oz” for some reason, West openly encourages us to root for Pearl cracking up. He’s entirely, unapologetically on Pearl’s wavelength, and he builds a pedestal for Goth in the process. West’s awe of Goth, which is justified, is unusually courtly for a horror movie director. Courtlier, in fact, than Dominik’s trivializing of Marilyn Monroe.
It may sound unbelievable to people who haven’t seen these movies yet, especially given their respective levels of prestige, but West and Goth build a better tormented artist than Dominik. West understands that miserable people can sometimes have fun anyway, and that there is a difference between what people show to society and how they are when they are alone.
Pearl’s restless creative spirit is accorded a surprising amount of weight, but West isn’t sentimental. Pearl’s imagination, horniness, and madness are all wrapped up together, emitting wild creative sparks. Ruth is a routine harridan mother, think Piper Laurie’s crazed mother in Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” without the theatricality, and while that characterization is a disappointment it allows us to subversively cheer Pearl on.
“Pearl” is less violent than “X” but more twisted. It’s a celebration of an artist’s selfishness, and its wild tonal swings mark a new path for West, who is often devoted to rigid set-ups and slow burns. Pearl frees not only herself, but West.
Meanwhile, at Idaho State Journal, Cassidy Robinson hits on some of the same notes in regards to Pearl:
Fans of West’s previous work have no idea what they are in store for with “Pearl.” His previous films evoked the tonal qualities of genre-specific horror movies, but his approach here is much more playful and exuberant. This is a horror film that doesn’t rely on moody lighting or other aesthetic signifiers to telegraph its scares, often avoiding the common editing tendencies of traditional horror set pieces. In place of creepy set dressing and serious music stings, West presents us with the type of technicolor fantasia of idyllic Americana and countryside décor that one might associate with a stage production of “Oklahoma.”
Bright red barns, blue skies, and green pastoral fields splash across the imagery in bold primary simplicity. When this is then juxtaposed with sudden acts of violence, dismemberment, and southern gothic melodrama, Pearl’s psychological duality stabs with sharper satire.
Mia Goth is credited as a co-writer on this project, and for all the movie’s genre-bending and broad displays of visual flourish, the story always serves to showcase the emotional reality of the character and her demented transition. Goth straddles the role between child-like innocence and the darker nuanced just below Pearl’s repressed surface, all while remaining in harmony with the film’s arch tone and intentional artifice. We see her dance, we see her cry, and we watch the dissociated torment that’s left when she believes that she doesn’t have any dignity worth protecting. This role will likely remain a touchstone for Goth in what is hopefully a long and varied career going forward.
I could spend all day talking about the film’s “Wizard of Oz” references, the traces of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” Brian De Palma’s similarly gauzy suburban fairytale “Carrie,” and the subtle nodes of John Water’s grotesque use of Hollywood camp as a means of social critique. What unifies these influences is the precision of an authorial vision and the confidence of a narratively driven style. “Pearl” serves as both a celebration of cinema as a means of escape, as well as a warning about losing your identity in the romance of that illusion.