Movies: X (2022)

Ti West began his directorial career in 2005 with the killer-bat film The Roost, but it wasn’t until his 2009 Satanic Panic throwback House of the Devil that the horror community really sat up and took notice. He followed up with the excellent paranormal horror The Innkeepers in 2011, and then in 2013 released his found-footage reimagining of the Jonestown massacre, The Sacrament, to somewhat more mixed reviews. After that, he branched out for a bit, directing a western in 2016 and helming a few episodes of TV series like Wayward Pines, The Passage, and The Resident. So when, in spring of 2022, he returned to horror big-time with a grungy retro slasher flick called X that was to be released through A24, many horror hounds, me included, were very excited.

The movie, set in 1979 and playing as a sort of mashup homage to 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as well as films like Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones that were on the forefront of the Golden Age of Porn, is an entertaining, period-accurate, gleefully gory, and slyly funny take on the slasher and porn films of the 70s, as well as an oddly sympathetic entry into the so-called “psycho biddy” horror subgenre.

Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness, the 2018 Suspiria) is outstanding as an aspiring porn star called Maxine Minx, whose feathered hair, copious freckles, and electric blue eyeshadow simply scream late 1970s sexpot, but she’s also got some interesting layers underneath her indecent dungarees; though it’s never explicitly stated, she seems to have insecurities about her appearance, and in order to overcome them, projects an air of complete confidence and an insistence that she deserves the very best life has to offer. Her older boyfriend, porn producer Wayne (played by Martin Henderson from The Ring), tells her she has that “x-factor,” and promises that the film they’re working on now will make her a star, as well as make all of them rich.

The pair are accompanied by two more veteran porn actors, Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow from Would You Rather) and Jackson Hole (played by rapper Kid Cudi), as well as earnest filmmaker RJ (Owen Campbell from My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To) and his girlfriend/sound engineer Lorraine (Jenna Ortega from Insidious: Chapter 2 and the 2022 Scream sequel).

The whole gang—just like in Texas Chainsaw—have piled into a van and are heading out to a remote farm in Texas (which is actually New Zealand), where they’ve rented a cabin from an elderly couple in order to shoot their magnum opus, The Farmer’s Daughters. Upon arrival, the old man, Howard (played by a nearly unrecognizable Stephen Ure, of Deathgasm and Ash vs. Evil Dead fame) says he doesn’t like the looks of them, but takes their money, warning them to mind their Ps and Qs, and to avoid upsetting his unwell wife Pearl (also played by Mia Goth under some impressive prosthetics, in a thematically relevant bit of casting).

For about the first half of the movie, we hang with the group as they begin filming their artful porn extravaganza, and are privy to their conversations about sexual liberation and appreciating one’s youth. Lorraine, who the others refer to as “church mouse,” is initially appalled by all the bumping and grinding on display, but eventually gets so into it that she asks to be in the movie herself, much to the consternation of her boyfriend RJ, who had ironically teased her earlier about being a prude when she objected to working on a porno movie.

Meanwhile, spooky old lady Pearl is skulking around, spying on the film crew and seeming to get more and more sexually frustrated the more action she sees from afar. Turns out ol’ Howard can’t give her what she needs anymore due to his bum heart, and Pearl grows increasingly resentful of these beautiful young things swanning around her property, being all perky and hot and humping who they please. Pearl’s frustration eventually builds up to a point where she begins offing the gang one by one in deliciously disgusting ways, and the implication is that she’s done this before, with Howard helping her cover up her crimes.

While X is a classic slasher in its own right, it does a few different spins on the trope, upending the “virgin as final girl” cliché and generally being altogether more sex-positive than your average slasher, which tends to punish the most promiscuous. That does happen here too, but there’s more going on with Pearl’s motivations, as she seems to have something of a sexual attraction toward Maxine herself, or at least an overriding desire to be her, to recapture the beautiful young dancer she once was, the girl who could simply bat her eyes and have any man do her bidding. In her interactions with her husband, she is almost sympathetic, needing that sexual release but unable to get it from him, and lamenting the toll the long years have taken on her face and body. It doesn’t excuse what she does, of course, but at least it’s a somewhat original angle on the tried-and-true slasher villain.

The look and feel of the movie is also a real highlight, as it appears very much like a film from 1979, and the frequent use of period-appropriate AM radio hits really puts you in that headspace. The characters are all interesting and largely likeable, so it’s not only entertaining to watch them interacting with one another and making their movie, but it’s also fairly harrowing (though still entertaining, not gonna lie) when they get dispatched in increasingly grisly ways. The gore looks great, with victims being bludgeoned, stabbed, eye-gouged, blasted with shotguns, and graphically run over in glorious, bloody fashion.

If you’re into 70s and 80s slashers and want to see a more modern take that still retains that vintage vibe, X is a really fun, gruesome good time with lots of nudity, great kills, and a killer with a little something different. It’s definitely my favorite of all Ti West’s horror films so far.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

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