Directed by Ti West
Runtime 102 Mins
Hot off the heels of the generously pastiched X from earlier this year, Ti West’s prequel/followup carves through the scattershot treatment of porno chic for a more grounded and psychologically terrifying character study with Pearl. A villain origin story for the sexually-frustrated, serial-killing octegenarian who terrorized the production crew of an independent adult film in the previous outing, West crafts a succinct and disturbing tale of broken Hollywood dreams and festering madness with unsettling restraint and visually impressive budgetary filmmaking. Mia Goth’s turn as the youthful slasher-to-be is, simply put, a tour-de-force performance (and possibly a career best) as she proves to be fully game for Pearl’s playful fluctuations between psychosexual horror and over-the-top campiness. As someone who did not originally care for the homage-based X, which lacked a wholly unique identity beyond what it smartly cribbed from, Pearl not only stands on its own beyond its sophomoric position in West and A24’s horror triptych, but it also builds considerable hype for the upcoming completion of the trilogy with MaXXXine.
Directed by Johannes Roberts, Vanessa & Joseph Winter, Maggie Levin, Tyler MacIntyre, Flying Lotus
Runtime 99 Mins
Much like all horror anthologies, the latest entry in the V/H/S series is decidedly a mixed bag of horror delights. No doubt realizing they had revitalized and drummed up new interest in the then-stagnant, found-footage horror anthology series with its nineties-throwback entry from last year, the team of production companies behind spooky streamer Shudder’s flagship acquisition returned to the same radical well of nostalgia for its next entry V/H/S/99.
Unlike the previous 94 entry, 99 attempts to hang a finer point on these found-footage shorts being period pieces with more cultural touchstones interjected into their outrageous balancing acts of horror and comedy, to mixed results. Jaw-dropping exercises in surreal grossout — like with Flying Lotus’ “Double Dare” riff, “Ozzy’s Dungeon,” or unbearable claustrophobic tension with Johannes Roberts’ sorority nightmare, “Suicide Bid” — are traded off with Maggie Levin’s entertaining, if underdeveloped, Jackass/Riot Grrl zombie caricature, “Shredding,” and Tyler MacIntyre’s meandering, American Pie-esque, voyeur comedy, “The Gawkers.”
Almost all entries take full advantage of the found-footage/archaic-media gimmick baked into the premise, and some, like the Winters’ trek through the underworld in “To Hell and Back,” are surprisingly ambitious, considering the modest budget and runtime allotted for the production. Those who have been on board with this growing franchise since its inception will no doubt be satisfied, but it is unquestionable that V/H/S/99 lacks that reinvigorating energy that its previous entry had.
Directed by Sarah Polley
Runtime 104 Mins
Based on Miriam Toews’ novel of the same name, Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, her first feature film in a decade, is an emotionally devastating exploration of faith and bodily agency told with heart-filling tenderness. Concerning a council of women within a Mennonite community, who are forced to deliberate over their future when their safety becomes jeopardized, Polley’s script crackles with righteous, necessary anger and indignation and meditates poignantly on a woman’s place in a cloistered, patriarchal society. Featuring a stacked cast of too many show-stealing performances from the likes of Claire Foy, Rooney Mara and more and shot with a gorgeous, lived-in texture, Polley’s film is founded on pointed outrage, but it’s the kindness exhibited within this community of women that stops it from reductively being another call to arms. Admittingly, it is a decidedly hard watch, given its subject matter and the raw, unflinching manner in which it explores said matter, but Polley’s intentions are always clear; and Women Talking always finds the response its seeks, be that fury, shock, warmth or the litany of other emotions it takes you through.
The Eternal Daughter
Directed by Joanna Hogg
Runtime 96 Mins
Continuing the current phase in her career —composed of semi-autobiographical explorations of cinema and memory, with The Souvenir Part I & 2— Joanna Hogg’s latest collaboration with A24 sees the director hauntingly investigate the notion of motherhood using the generic language of the gothic horror film. On its surface it concerns a filmmaker, Julie, and her eldery mother, Rosalind (both played by Hogg’s frequent collaborator Tilda Swinton), retreating to a luxury hotel deep in the foggy woods of Wales— coincidentally the same opulent manor that served as Rosalind’s childhood home— so that Julie may hopefully pry information from her distant mother to form the basis of a film on her life.
This premise gives way to a beguilingly, pseudo-haunted-house narrative thrust that Hogg showcases with her elegiac, dreamlike aesthetic of long takes exploring the interiors and rolling grounds of the Welsh manor. The Eternal Daughter can at times be mesmerizing, especially when its crisp cinematography or Swinton’s double-duty performance is concerned, but even given its brief runtime, it can occasionally feel like it is absently spinning its wheels in place and repeating itself when it comes to its mild horror vibes.