After almost six years, horror film director Ti West returns, this time with what can only be described as one “f*cked up horror picture.” X is a delightfully gory piece, and while it doesn’t necessarily push the limits of the slasher genre, it certainly delivers a hell of a good time.
Set in 1979, a group of young filmmakers (Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Martin Henderson, and Owen Campbell) set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, but when their reclusive, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast finds themselves fighting for their lives.
The film had its premiere this past March at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, followed by rave reviews from critics and attendees. Many noticed the film’s clear homages to the likes of renowned classics in the genre, such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Shining (1980). However, A24’s most recent addition to its catalog of inquisitive horrors is able to stand on its own.
X truly isn’t what I was expecting, and that is what made me love it even more. Considering it is a slasher, the film is meant to shock you more than scare you. The film itself goes beyond being merely a ‘blood and guts killer time’ with an array of porn star characters. It feeds into your adrenaline and spikes it up to ten – but possibly only if you’re as easily scared as I am. Many viewers have come to consider the film tame compared to what it could have been. Despite that, it dives deep into the violence, and it doesn’t hold back.
X is more in tune with what Zola (2020) felt. It has a gritty and insidious slice-of-life charm as we follow Maxine (Mia Goth) and her aspirations to be the greatest star in the film business. Ti West eases the audience into the story through Maxine’s perspective as we then get to know the motley crew accompanying her and her dreams. What quickly follows is the behind-the-scenes minutiae of the making of “The Farmer’s Daughter” porn flick. This goes hand-in-hand with the movie’s director, RJ Nichols (Owen Campbell), overeagerness to create something worthy of being recognized by the power of independent cinema–providing well-needed and well-earned comedic relief. However, once all the sex is out of the way, night falls, and the true horror begins.
At times it feels as though X has the potential to gain the same admiration and following many have given to the cult classic Jennifer’s Body (2009). A clear difference between the two is that there is a male voice driving X, seeing as a male director directs it, but there are many similar aspects to appreciate about the film that further work to delve into the nature of femininity, beauty, and aging, much like the man-eating thriller did. The horror genre and all the sub-genres that fall under its umbrella take it upon themselves to criticize the objectification of women as well as their existence and purpose in society through a critical lens. Similarly, X is no stranger to this ideation in how it dissects and examines the Madonna-whore dichotomy within the pornography industry.
The various characters are committed to their work, purposefully attending the trip to make an erotic film. However, Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), decides to go beyond her role as the movie’s boom operator. She joins in on the fun halfway through their production, which is what ultimately starts up the conflict in the film. However, the film makes it clear that it does not punish the characters for their occupation – their demise does not come alongside a judgment of their purity or lack thereof, if there is even such a thing. Instead, it is due to the explicit jealousy of our villain. Well beyond her youth, she yearns for what was and what she no longer has.
A24’s latest thrives on the fear of feeling regret over missed opportunities and lost chances. In a world that constantly performs what feels like a gymnastics floor routine in shifting between nihilism and existentialism, there is an intrinsic horror that feeds off the mind when wondering whether life is really being lived to the fullest, and that is what makes X so deliciously and agonizingly terrifying.