BOOGIE NIGHTS meets THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in Ti West’s latest
X, which hits theaters mere days after its premiere at SXSW, has Ti West returning to feature length narratives after a six year respite, with a different film than fans of his more deliberately paced chillers would expect. The film puts Mia Goth front and center in a group of young exotic dancers and their boyfriends, who are heading off to a secluded farm outside of Houston to shoot a porn flick in 1979. The only problem is the elderly couple who own the farm where they are filming their cinematic masterwork has no idea what the group is up to in the cabin on their property. For fans of horror, this is really a standard setup that has West flexing his writing and directing skills, delivering a surprising depth and humor to these characters and situations as the visceral slasher takes us into some unexpected pockets of the human psyche.
The fear of our starry-eyed porn stars getting busted by their elderly (and of course evangelical) hosts supplies the first act with the bulk of its tension, as West layers in some rather unexpected themes among more obvious lowbrow humor. West explores beauty, mortality, love, and sex work as the characters begin to shoot “The Farmer’s Daughters”. X operates on a dual bandwidth, using the film within a film and other mechanisms to add a chilling subtext to sequences, particularly one where Goth encounters the elderly matriarch of the home intercutting their creepy interactions with the pornographic version. The elderly woman takes a rather unexpected fancy to the young woman, who she describes as having “that something special.” Once we run the porn narrative to a rather sex positive conclusion, the film switches gears and bares its gnarled teeth.
The characters and performances here are what really makes this film “something special.” While the charismatic porn folks are suprisingly sharp in their hot takes on the legitimacy of sex work, using both humor and humanity to make them even more endearing, it’s the elderly couple who are given a rather complex drive to take us through to the final act. It’s at the start of their killing spree that I knew I was watching something truly different, when I was actually almost sympathizing with the hunters as much as the hunted, with the first kill being a very solid “good for her ‘’ moment. It’s a mix of mortality and jealousy that motivates our octogenarian executioners in a film that, because of this and its more progressive leanings, sets itself apart from more superficial, stereotypical slashers.
This may honestly be the first A24 horror film where the mass audience marketing actually undersells the brutality that awaits them in that darkened theater. While there’s plenty of nudity and gore, and moments that will no doubt make your skin crawl, X intelligently subverts tropes and expectations. This is thanks not only to a great script but also to some truly engrossing performances by Goth, Jenna Ortega, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, and Brittany Snow, who take the horror stereotypes and imbue them with a humanity that makes you invested in their fates. West has delivered a raucously disturbing crowd pleaser of a horror film that is a welcome addition to his filmography. X is Boogie Nights meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and is an absolute blast to see with a crowd.