X – Movie Review
X is a gory, funny, surprisingly restrained, and yet still gleefully amoral film. April 7, 2022, | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review… Ti West blends old school homage with modern horror thrills to craft a blackly comic and surprisingly poignant tale loaded with scares and gut-churning gore.
Intelligent horror. Yes, such a thing actually exists. Granted, that’s not always what the hordes of hungry horror fans looking to fulfill their bloodlust want from the genre, but for those who like their spilled blood and severed body parts served with a touch a class, do I have a film for you!
Ti West’s (The Innkeepers) new slasher film from A24 called X is certainly one of the bloodiest, nastiest little slices of horror to come down the pike in quite some time. With a gritty grindhouse look and rich with gestures toward meaningful subtexts, X feels like something right out of the ‘70s or ‘80s.
And that’s certainly not by mistake. Having toiled in television over the last several years, West calls his return to horror a love letter to indie cinema. In fact, there’s a nice little film-within-a-film meta-commentary going on in X about how horror and porn have always been considered the lowest of lowbrow art forms. But he flips that script by using those two elements in heavy doses to both reinforce that point and to shatter it by making a smart horror film about making a smart porno film. Certainly a risky maneuver, but with X he shows us that there is indeed something more to both of those types of entertainment.
The film opens with sheriff’s deputies investigating what appears to be a murder scene in a remote Texas farmhouse. We see blood-stained wooden floors and bodies covered with sheets strewn about the property.
The action then jumps to the previous 24 hours where we meet a group of young people who are looking to rent a house to film a porno movie titled The Farmer’s Daughter. We learn the year is 1979 and the surroundings remind us of those in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with wide shots of the wooden house with creaky screen doors barely visible above the waves of grass.
The Farmer’s Daughter’s cast consists of executive producer Wayne (Martin Henderson, Smokin’ Aces), his fame-hungry girlfriend Maxine (A wonderful Mia Goth, Suspiria), porn star Bobby-Lyne (Brittany Snow, Pitch Perfect), and Vietnam vet and porn actor Jackson (rapper Kid Cudi). Rounding out the crew are cameraman RJ (Owen Campbell, The Americans) and his sound tech/girlfriend Lorraine (Scream’s Jenna Ortega).
The first half of X is made up of the story’s film crew getting it on with cameras rolling. Things take a harrowing turn, however, when the property’s elderly owners show up. Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (I won’t spoil who plays her) are a miserable old couple who factor into the story in more ways than one.
As the generational clash begins to heat up, X goes full slasher. Characters are killed off one by one in some very creative – and unexpected – ways. This is where West really shines. He clearly knows how to create a genuine sense of dread as his focus is more on suspense and anticipation than it is on who will die next, or how they will die. As a result, West’s themes of growing old and regretting the things we didn’t do in our youth carry a much stronger weight.
Filmed during the pandemic in New Zealand (standing in for Texas), X displays s strong period texture thanks to West’s meticulous attention to detail and his creative use of ’70s music. One fabulously disturbing scene plays under Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper. Yes, that sounds a bit too on the nose, but he somehow makes it work. Still gives me shivers. It’s the beautiful but disturbing little touches he shows rather than the in-your-face violence that make his X so effective.
Watch X and believe it. Porn and slasher horror can indeed be classy.