X is, indeed, gonna give it to ya
I am starting to believe that the horror genre is running out of worthwhile variations on the “van full of outsiders descend on a cabin in the woods and end up being gruesomely executed” subgenre. As someone who’s written movie reviews on the internet for decades now, I can assure you there’s an absolute glut of this type of film. And my interest level in checking them out has waned quite a bit. But, much like the zombie subgenre keeps threatening irrelevance only to dig up new life via creative artists, along comes one of this generation’s most exciting horror filmmakers, Ti West, with his own variation on this time honored tradition, to show the others how it’s done.
Ti West delivers a great slice of horror here with X. Six filmmakers rent out a guest house on an isolated farm in 1979 Texas to make a porn film. It’s a real “ask forgiveness and not permission” kind of scenario that producer Wayne (Martin Henderson, Torque) has arranged with the older couple who own the farm. Maxine (Mia Goth, Suspiria) is Wayne’s young up and coming star and lover, Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow, Bushwick) and Jackson (Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi, Bill And Ted Face The Music) are Wayne’s time-tested stars, and Lorraine (Jenna Ortega, The Fallout) and RJ (Owen Campbell, Super Dark Times) are film school students who’re in just a little over their heads running sound and camera, respectively. It’s worth highlighting our entire crew by name because West genuinely does a great job distinguishing all these people and fleshing them out in the context of 1979 America and their own life philosophies and goals and character arcs. This virtually never happens in these films where larger casts are introduced mostly as fodder for a decent kill count by the end.
Unfortunately for our largely quite likable crew, farmers Howard and Pearl are not the ideal hosts for their guerilla porn shoot.
Ti West’s signature slow burn style is on glorious display here, with patient and gorgeous camera work and top notch scripting that keeps us laughing, leaning in, and curious to know more as all the pieces click together. And all that craft does indeed pay off with absolutely wicked practical gore effects and kills that had the world premiere audience at SXSW screaming, jumping, and clapping.
What X brings to the table along with its well-written characters, great kills, and patient rhythm of storytelling is a genuine meditation on sex, youth, and our collective human terror around aging. X is actually a sexy film that earns its title. It doesn’t shy away from being a film about flesh and the ticking clock we’re all living under, no matter our gender, the color of our skin, or whatever phase of life we find ourselves in. In a way it’s a kind of sex positive horror film that posits that it isn’t sex or youth or money that necessarily corrupt, but rather our human desire to cling to our vitality at the expense of others that gets us into trouble. The harder we try to cling to youth, the more it slips through our grasp. This is the kind of thoughtfulness that can really be executed incredibly well through the horror genre. X is genuinely off–putting. Pearl and Howard are designed to horrify us all; characters in their own right, but also symbols that dredge up our deepest fears around aging. So West is able to design set pieces and character moments that physically make the skin we’re meditating on (and trapped in) crawl. Talk about a multisensory experience.
X occasionally does feel a lot like what has come before it, recalling the aesthetic of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or just making old people terrifying ala Shyamalan’s The Visit. After all, it still IS a horror film about people getting killed off at a creepy farmhouse. But it’s 2022 and this is inescapable. Ti West writes, directs, and produces here, and manages to wring something fresh and thrilling and thought provoking from a desiccated husk of a subgenre.
And I’m Out.