Why Mia Goth might just be our contemporary scream queen
In the titular role of Ti West's 2022 slasher Pearl, Mia Goth delivers one of the most emotional scenes of the film with a tearful, guttural scream: "I'm a star!" While the aspiring actress realizes in real-time that she doesn't have as much talent as she thought she did, refusing to accept that her dreams in showbiz have died; Mia Goth, on the other hand, proves she has that X factor.
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With the first two installments in A24's X trilogy, the 29-year-old British actress might just be on her way to becoming this generation's scream queen. Staring into the camera with the most lurid smile you'd ever seen in Pearl, or playing a shocking double role and doing lines of coke while telling her reflection, "You're a fucking sex symbol," in X, it's like she's coming for the title. And she has been. Although she has just a little over a dozen feature film credits to her name, most are arty horror movies or experimentalist thrillers that date back to 2015's Survivalist, which was only her second feature after she left modeling for acting with Lars Von Trier's 2013 erotic drama Nymphomaniac. Through her eclectic choices and on-screen presence that often balances strength and sex appeal with something of a peculiar energy, she's becoming the modern scream queen we didn't know we needed.
['Suspiria' / Courtesy of Amazon Prime Studios]
Part of her allure stems from how she's been more interested in playing complex women who surprise at every turn more than anything else. And while she's said that she didn't necessarily set out to pursue horror projects, she's discovered those kinds of roles within the genre and helped to elevate them through her performance. She's able to tap into a fearlessness that engrosses you in her character's journey, whether that's as X's ambitious, blue-eyeshadow-wearing starlet Maxine or her defiant dancer alter-ego Sara in Luca Guadagnino's 2018 Suspiria remake. Perhaps even more intriguing is her ability to find beauty in strangeness, like the eerie psychological horror movie Marrowbone or her mysterious, ghost-like character Hannah in Gore Verbinski's underrated gothic tale A Cure for Wellness. Similarly, it's thrilling to see her fully commit to ugliness, from the tragic, extreme lengths for survival her character goes to in Claire Denis' 2018 sci-fi film High Life to Pearl's unhinged killing spree and her most recent role as Gabi in Brandon Cronenberg's new horror movie Infinity Pool (which just hit theaters).
It seems as though Goth is in the midst of building a career on portraying women who aren’t one-dimensional and don't shy away from becoming fully unhinged. She has even said while promoting Infinity Pool that she finds "the experience of working on [unhinged characters] incredibly cathartic," noting how she often finds herself in going through the world cautiously and worried about what other people might think. Having done X, Pearl, and Infinity Pool back-to-back has felt like "winning the lottery" to her, because of how rare it can be for actresses to find roles where their characters are "messy, complicated, and unapologetic."
['Pearl' / Courtesy of A24]
For the audience, it can be just as cathartic, or at the very least thrilling, to see that on screen — and partially why so many fans have latched onto Goth. The "Mia Goth" hashtag on TikTok has well over 500 million views, many of which are on videos about how she explores "female rage." It was Pearl, after all, that caught many younger fans' attention, inspiring them to make videos mimicking her audition dance or arguing that "she did nothing wrong." In that sense, the way in which she's put a twist on the scream queen by making her someone a bit more unexpectable — someone who might just freak you out herself, or inspire within you your own feeling of rage — makes her all the more intriguing.
While there is something entirely unique about Goth, within the past year, many have also drawn comparisons between her and Shelley Duvall. Like Duvall, who's also contributed to the horror genre with her scene-stealing performance as Wendy in The Shining, Goth has a unique, somewhat unconventional look that's stunning nonetheless, and a quirkiness about her that not too many stars today are keen on committing to. (Her voice, for one, many still can't believe is real.) While there are other modern scream queens like Jenna Ortega and Anya Taylor-Joy (both of whom Goth has worked with), it's almost as if Goth harkens back to the eccentricities of Duvall and her career choices, from her campy breakout role as a frenzied group in Nashville to her striking performance in the psychological thriller 3 Women, even more than she does her household name contemporaries.
['Infinity Pool' / Courtesy of NEON]
There aren't a whole lot of movie stars that have the power to draw people to the theaters in droves like they used to — but for some cinephiles and young women fascinated by themes of female rage, Mia Goth might just be able to do it with Infinity Pool. This past year, the rising scream queen has certainly tapped into something that has riled up fans, and we can only hope she continues to make exciting choices in her career. She did have a hand in writing Pearl and has talked about the Academy's habit of overlooking horror as a genre — so if there were to be someone to propel the genre as a serious awards contender, it might just be her. As Maxine says in X, she's "gonna be a star and the whole world is gonna know [her] name."