If there’s a genre of film that will bring people to their seats, that would probably be horror. And if there’s one studio that’s been the talk of popularity years now is A24. The latest from writer-director Ti West, X, brings the best of both worlds for those wanting to experience a thinker and be creeped out. With these, it isn’t hard knowing many of them will be loved by critics, while the general audience won’t find the particular film impressive or not scary. I haven’t entirely loved one yet, but even fan favorites like Hereditary or Green Room are what I considered good. But with the appeal of how true horror fans grew up with the classics from Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven decades ago, there’s no doubt anybody won’t have fun with this while being terrified.
What’s the Story: Set in 1979, a small film crew: strip club owner/ executive producer Wayne (Martin Henderson), actors Maxine (Mia Goth) and Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), and Jackson Hole (Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi), director RJ (Owen Campbell) and his girlfriend/ boom mic operator Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) hops in a van to make the artsiest adult film ever made in rural Texas. With them shooting “The Farmer’s Daughter,” they set out to make it a true magnum opus to ever exist in the realm of pornography. Their location is on an isolated farm where they’ve rented out a cottage from an elderly couple without them not know what they’re doing in there. As their hosts catch them with what they’re up to, the cast goes through hell for the next 24 hours.
I haven’t seen anything from West before walking into X. Those who’ve followed him for a while already must’ve followed him with his string of independent filmography, from The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and his dip into western with In the Valley of Violence. So, making this my first blood was undoubtedly a choice for his return after six years. But going into this left me a bit hesitant if I was going to be freshly amusing enough or pretentious. Since its made its premiere at the SXSW Film Festival recently, I was mostly excited. While this isn’t one to tell everyone to go out and see despite supporting an indie with a wide release, X was a good time.
West’s inspiration from the slasher genre is in full force when you watch it on screen. Because these films weren’t polished and had this low-budget feel to them, that’s what made them stick out of our minds after it’s over. It’s more of his touch on the grindhouse throwback without making it feel repetitive to anything we’ve seen, and you’d be surprised by how it doesn’t lean to being predictable. I loved his style of keeping up with the tension early on, and while the first act puts it through a slow burn with its setup and establishing its eerie location, it still keeps your eyes peeled to keep you waiting. He understands how to mesh with its porn-like fun, similar to Boogie Nights with the nighttime terror of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
And while it has a group of characters that may not be the most memorable by the time it ends, it’s the casting that made them a solid effort in still liking them. Just with this small cast, the time we spent getting to know them before or during shooting their film wasn’t what I thought it would show how great their chemistry was with one another. Martin Henderson gives off a Matthew McConaughey vibe throughout, which isn’t bad. Jenna Ortega is already in her fourth movie this year (third in a horror movie), but she is learning to be the next Scream Queen this decade. But besides Ortega, the other standout came from Mia Goth as Maxine. Surprisingly, I haven’t watched many movies with Goth aside from the Suspiria remake, but she was incredible as this character who wants to make it big as a star in her field line. Let’s just face she has more to do in here We also have the likes of Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, and Owen Campbell around to complete this ensemble. Even the older couple that has us being afraid of them didn’t make them the generic and useless villains we normally see these days.
The purpose of a subgenre of this type is to see how the characters are meant to die, and we want them to survive to this unexpected crazy night that goes south, I didn’t have problems with the kills. They are bloody and shocking to a creative degree. And what I appreciate about X that wasn’t all that present in other A24 movies is that this has some effective scares that did have me shielding my eyes because I’m not too fond of gore sometimes. Still, I couldn’t get enough of them. This was the scariest film from the studio that had me creeped out during the crazy last half. There was one death, without spoiling, that had me laughing with the misdirect behind it all.
West’s screenplay might’ve played on how this is ridiculous and let his cast and the audience know this is not to be taken too seriously, and why wouldn’t it be? But for all the kills and sex this has to give to the people, I didn’t think this has a profound message is between them, oddly enough: Getting older, sex appeal for a certain age or beauty that are unexpected themes to take away from in relations to Pearl and her husband Howard (Stephen Ure). He also crafts a beautiful-looking picture with Eliot Rockett serving as the cinematographer to help capture a look of the late ’70s that would’ve blended in nicely. A few images will stay in your mind once it’s over, including an incredible overhead shot Goth swimming in the lake that holds on it for a while. And the soundtrack isn’t something to scoff at either, from “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry to “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult.
The film is already good enough, but the surprising news from this a couple of days before its release was hearing West already shot a prequel called Pearl. I didn’t think that that was the start of a franchise, but let me have it. And apparently, there was something extra after the credits and my friend and I didn’t know. Safe to say, we were both sad about missing it.
In the end, X is a true slasher I enjoyed very much. Ti West’s homage to the ‘70s grindhouse era of film gets the job done by successfully being gory, sexy, and genuinely tense. The cast is excellent too, especially the performances of Mia Goth and Jenna Ortega. This is not a film for everybody if you aren’t too comfortable with bloody or get turned off by horror movies in general, but it’s still worth checking out in the theater.
Grade: 8/10 (B+)
X is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 105 Minutes. Studio: A24