Knockout, new-wave horror with ‘Pearl’; Bill Nighy superb in ‘Living’

Such sweetness: Mia Goth is all smiles as the titular character in the horror film ‘ Pearl’.

PEARL **** (103 minutes) MA
Horror fans rejoice with the advent of Pearl, a new-wave horror chiller that clocks in as an absolute knockout exercise in top-tier terror.

A cliche-averse, outside-the-box prequel to X, the trip skillfully blends old-school movie trappings with a laser-sharp edge designed to keep you glued as you are prompted to keep asking yourself every few scenes or so “what the heck is going on with this girl?”

After a playfully old-style opening reminiscent of a 1950s Technicolour melodrama, we meet the lovely Pearl (Mia Goth, who co-wrote with director Ti West), a deceptively sweet-looking girl working on her family’s Texas farm.

It’s 1918, and while waiting for her husband to return from the battle front Pearl copes with the chores, which include caring for her infirm father and tyrannical mother.

Helping her through are her glorious dreams of life as a dancer, stoked by visits to the local moviehouse, where she befriends the handsome projectionist (David Corenswet).

What makes the movie swing is that young Pearl has a tornado-sized screw loose that, to put it very mildly, leads to some rather odd behaviour involving sex and violence.

The finesse of West’s direction is arguably better than what he served up in X, with Goth’s pitch-perfect portrayal of a girl whose mind lives in a world of its own one of many factors that will keep you captivated and clutching the armrests as you wonder where Pearl is going to go next.

Fabulous stuff.

Superbly subtle: Bill Nighy in ‘Living’.

LIVING ***1/2 (102 minutes) PG
He didn’t nab the Best Actor Oscar he was up for but you’ll see why Bill Nighy’s wonderfully understated lead performance in Living was such a strong contender.

Adapted from the 1952 Akira Kurosawa film Ikiru, Nighy plays the buttoned-down Rodney Williams, an emotionally reserved bureaucrat who heads a London City Council department in the early 1950s.

After being handed a cancer diagnosis he takes a few days off for a holiday by the sea where his intention to commit suicide isn’t matched by his will. He gifts his bottles of sleeping tablets to a sleep-starved local writer Mr Sutherland (Tom Burke) with whom he forms a vacation friendship.

His return to the city sees him forming a close friendship with Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood), a former office colleague, whose warmth sparks within him a renewed sense of purpose in a job that, until then, involved nothing more than the pushing of paper.

For the first time, he sees his duty extend beyond the mere management of his department to a responsibility to the community, a shift in focus that sees Williams take quiet glee in the bending of rules and the insistence that things be done to his liking, especially when it comes to the building of a local playground.

With Nighy superb in his gentle portrait of a lonely soul that is transformed by the advent of mortality, Living is a beautifully subdued, moving and modest testament to the big life lesson Rodney Williams belatedly learns, namely how a big part of living is giving.

Footnote: The film was written by Kazuo Ishiguro, a Nobel Prize-winning writer born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954 before emigrating to Britain in 1960 with his parents.

After writing two novels that explored Japanese culture, in 1989 Ishiguro wrote the lauded, English-as novel The Remains of the Day, made into the 1993 movie.

This makes utter nonsense of “cultural appropriation”, demonstrating how artistic vision observes no physical, spiritual or cultural boundaries.

Thankfully, the idiotic idea of appropriation is rapidly losing traction, due mainly to its total absence of logic and lack of understanding about how art works. Here’s to its voyage into oblivion continuing post-haste.