How Pearl Became A Pandemic Movie, In More Ways Than One [Exclusive]

How certain films have decided to handle the pandemic has been fascinating. A film like "Three Thousand Years of Longing" reflects the world fairly accurately, where some people wear masks in public and others don't. "Confess, Fletch" makes an off-hand comment about the pandemic as to why Kyle MacLachlan's character doesn't shake hands. "Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn" conducts a PTA meeting outside to have open air circulation. Then there are the movies that use the pandemic to thematically link with their protagonists.

This is captured in Steven Soderbergh's crackerjack thriller "Kimi," where Zoë Kravitz's character is an agoraphobic person living in a time where going out in public is also a major health risk. So, when she does eventually have to leave her apartment and interact with people, the tension is unbearable. Venturing out into everyday society is now not something we take for granted. It is an adventure, and danger could be right around the corner.

Ti West's new horror film "Pearl" takes its cues from the COVID-19 pandemic, but it does not take place during it. No, this film goes back over 100 years to 1918, which just so happened to be when the influenza pandemic took place. Much of the imagery is still the same, most notably the mask wearing in public, and it utilizes the backdrop to great effect. While it's partly for tension, West wants to turn the regular outside world into his own perilous yellow brick road for his Dorothy Gale, the aspiring dancer Pearl (Mia Goth).

A dangerous world out there

We're all familiar with the story of someone unhappy in their surroundings, yearning to be part of something grand. That's "The Wizard of Oz." That's "Star Wars." This trope is even more common in stories about show business, from "Funny Girl" to "Showgirls." In "Pearl," the titular character dreams of fame, but she isn't someone who can get to Hollywood. No, her first step is much smaller, auditioning for a church dance group. You read that and think there couldn't be much adventure in that. 

Ti West, speaking with /Film's BJ Colangelo, explained how he came to use the 1918 pandemic to set Pearl's journey:

"It just seemed like a topical way to make a movie that tapped into COVID, without being about COVID. Weirdly, also, when I did the math of going, 'Well, what would a younger Pearl be,' and you reduced the clock, the ideal date happened to be 1919. I was like, 'We should go one more year,' ... It kind of came out of both the math, and the topical stuff we were going through at the time, and it also just felt like a good backdrop for her situation. Because isolation, and feeling like you want to be somewhere else, was a big part of the storyline."

Importantly, Pearl's overbearing mother (Tandi Wright) takes the pandemic incredibly seriously and keeps Pearl isolated on their farm, only heightening Pearl's desire to be in the dancing pictures and see the world. That world may be filled with disease and death, but it's better than one second longer with her mother. West smartly never makes the pandemic a focal point, letting us bring our own fears of the one we're living through into the film. A perfect marriage of story and place.