"X" stars Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, James Gaylyn, and Scott Mescudi. Released on March 18, 2022, the film is about a film crew who experiences a violent encounter with a reclusive couple.
The film was written and directed by Ti West, who also directed films such as "The Roost", "The House of the Devil", "The Sacrament", and "In a Valley of Violence". If you're going to shoot a movie in a secluded area, you got to make sure it's safe enough to do so. Otherwise, you'll probably wind up like these poor souls. Last weekend had a couple of scary movies to frighten their audiences. One of those films I'll be talking about today is a low-budget slasher movie that features intense violence and sexuality. Lots and lots of sexuality. The movie also sees writer/director Ti West returning to his horror roots that made him a household name in his first project in six years. While I wasn't familiar with the filmmaker and the previous movies he made, I was willing to check it out because I was impressed with its trailer. Plus, the movie has been getting some excellent reviews since its debut at this year's SXSW festival. So was this latest slasher film a glorious bloodbath worth experiencing, or are we better off watching porn instead? Let's find out.
The story is set in 1979, where a film crew travels across Texas to shoot their latest pornographic movie. The crew consists of movie actress Maxine Minx (Goth), producer Wayne Gilroy (Henderson), supporting actors Bobby Lynne (Snow) and Jackson Hole (Mescudi), director RJ Nichols (Campbell), and RJ's girlfriend Lorraine (Ortega). They soon arrived at the farm of elderly couple Howard (Ure) and Pearl (also played by Goth), who shared their guesthouse with them to shoot the movie. During filming, the crew discovers that this couple is far from comforting. This discovery puts their film and their lives at risk of being put on the shelves permanently.
The slasher genre has gotten off to a decent start this year, with the surprisingly worthy follow-up to "Scream" back in January. Unfortunately, it failed to capitalize on its track record, thanks to the bloody disappointment that was the recent "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" sequel last month. That only leaves this movie to get the genre back on track. The thing about me and the genre is similar to how I feel towards the other horror movies. I don't mind watching them for the scares and even the fatalities as long as they are fun and provide tolerable narratives to coincide with their creepiness. "X" sees Ti West attempting to deliver these elements while paying homage to the slasher films of yesteryear, specifically the ones from the 70s, including the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movie. The result is a refreshingly creepy experience that handles the genre wisely rather than abusing it.
The only way I can describe the storyline in "X" is that it's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" with porn. Instead of a masked psychopath with mental issues killing off helpless victims, the film has an elderly couple with mental issues murdering the characters one by one. Unfortunately, the killing spree doesn't precisely happen until its second half. This means you have to sit through the first half filled with dialogue-driven moments, slow pacing, and pornographic pleasure to get to the good stuff. So you better not plan on watching this movie with your parents, or better yet, make sure you're by yourself before viewing it. I wasn't surprised by this structure because that's what happened with the last few horror movies I've seen from A24. It's more like a waiting game in which the reward for watching a slow-burn first half is a finale that's either engaging or messed up or even both. "X" appears to be no different, but West made the first half just as good as the film's bloody conclusion, thanks to his superb direction. It's easy to point out that Ti West knows what he's doing, considering his history with the horror genre. Rather than saving the tension and scares for the murder spree, West used those tropes to create stunning build-ups for the dialogue scenes and character moments. Because of this, "X" became a movie that doesn't feel like a chore to get through, especially if you're into people filming porn.
What's even more interesting about the story is that it offers some underlying themes amid its spine-tingling atmosphere and gory kills. The movie explores a part in cinema history where independent filmmaking, especially porn, affects society. More importantly, it showcases beauty in age, in which Pearl grows jealous of Maxine's youth and sexuality and yearns to recapture those traits, even if it means murdering a pornographic film crew to do it. These small bits of commentary help inject a sense of freshness into the film's tiring slasher formula. It may not change the way we watch a slasher movie, but it does make for one heck of a scare, even though most of the kills were pretty predictable. Does it make much of an impact like "The Lighthouse" regarding its disturbing content? Not really, but I can tell you one thing. It does make me terrified of the elderly.
The movie's cast also made a solid impression onscreen by providing some enjoyability and nuance in their characters, most notably Mia Goth. Goth pulls double duty as a protagonist (Maxine Minx) and an antagonist (Pearl), and the result is distinctively compelling. While Goth delivered a suitable performance as Maxine, her role as Pearl got me hooked from start to finish. She was unrecognizable due to the convincing makeup design, but she's also terrifying in the best way. Additionally, Jenna Ortega continues to do very well in her quest to become the new Scream Queen regarding her performance as Lorraine. While not as grand as Goth's performance, Ortega still proves to be a striking presence in her leading and supporting roles. The rest of the cast also did suitable jobs with their performances, including Snow and Mescudi as Bobby Lynne and Jackson, respectively.
Aside from its formula, my only issue with "X" is the transitions or at least one of them. The editing works in providing the essence of a 1970s horror movie, especially with how it transitions from one scene to the next. However, there's one transition piece that I honestly wasn't a fan of. Occasionally, the film moves to the following sequence, but then it cuts back to the previous scene before cutting to the current one and then back again. That's the best way to explain this transition in my own words. If you watch the film, you'll understand what I mean. It was fine when it was used the first time, but then it got extremely tiring after the movie used it more than once. It's a distracting editing choice that somehow ruined the immersion for me.
Overall, "X" definitely marks the spot in the horror genre and Ti West's filmography. It's far from the most disturbing movie I've seen, but it offers enough chills and kills to deliver a well-crafted and terrifyingly superb piece of old-school slasher cinema. With its riveting tension, underlying themes, and Mia Goth's dual performance, the film continues A24's track record of providing cinematic quality, especially in the horror genre. If you're not into anything adult-rated like violence and pornography, this movie won't do you any favors. However, if you actually prefer this kind of stuff or are in a mood for a scare or two, give this one a watch if it's available near you.