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X Review

March 21, 2022 | Posted by Joseph Lee
X Jenna Ortega Image Credit: Christopher Moss/A24
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X Review  

* Mia Goth as Maxine Minx/Pearl
* Jenna Ortega as Lorraine
* Martin Henderson as Wayne Gilroy
* Scott Mescudi as Jackson Hole
* Brittany Snow as Bobby-Lynne
* Owen Campbell as RJ Nichols
* Stephen Ure as Harold
* James Gaylyn as Sheriff Dentler

Story: In 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, but when their reclusive, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast find themselves fighting for their lives.

Depending on who you ask, Ti West has been a very hit-or-miss filmmaker at times. I think most can agree that Cabin Fever 2 wasn’t his finest moment. However when he hits, he really hits, and you get movies like The House of the Devil and The Sacrament. He’s never really made a full-on slasher before, and it could be argued that X is not that. It definitely features the formula but it’s also something else. Is arthouse slasher a thing? Only A24 knows for sure!

This movie is set in 1979, as a ragtag group of filmmakers set off to make their very own adult film. This is back in the golden age of porn, when there was at least an aura of mainstream legitimacy to them. It would have been just after movies like this would actually get reviewed by Roger Ebert and go to theaters. This group sees the money that Debbie Does Dallas is getting and uses that as inspiration to make their own film, The Farmer’s Daughters. To do this, they rent a boarding house on a Texas farm from an elderly couple, without telling them why they are there.

This movie has echoes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, whether intentionally or not, right down to the interiors of the couple’s house. It’s best to assume it was intentional, given the decade and the setting. The movie is just dripping 70s. If you’ve ever seen a porn from this era, the parody scenes are spot on. Even if you haven’t, it also feels reminiscent of grindhouse movies from that time, right down to the shoestring budget and filming style. Ti West was not alive in the 70s but he definitely did his homework.

Several complaints with the recent Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre requels is the age of the villains. How can Leatherface, who has to be pushing 70 at best, chase a young cast? X gets around that by not even trying to make the villains here standard. They’re just people, but people that happen to be killers. there are no Leatherfaces to be found here and the threats come from feeling relatively safe when you shouldn’t. No one is going to suspect this old woman of being a danger until she is, which leads to some great suspenseful moments.

It also goes a step above in its attempt to humanize, if not justify, the villains. We get scenes where we’re meant to feel a little sorry for them. The movie clearly shows what they’re doing is wrong, and you’ll still cheer for them to get their comeuppance, but you can at least understand, on some level, what caused them to be this way. It’s appreciated when villains have depth.

In fact, this movie seems to have a knack for suspense and generally just making someone feel uncomfortable. The sex scenes have a voyeuristic quality to them, more so than normal in film. Then when it gets night and things start happening, it gets even creepier. I’m not just talking about the villains, either, as there’s a great moment involving an alligator that creates unease even if you’re reasonably sure things will be fine.

X isn’t exactly a roller coaster, but West is a smart director that knows how to use every single inch of a shot. He also knows how to set several things up for later and pay them off. The movie doesn’t insult the intelligence of the audience, instead expecting thing to pick up on several clues for how things will happen later. You have to appreciate a script that allows the audience to be on the “joke”, especially when the payoff works and there are still nasty surprises here and there.

And the cast is more than game, with everyone shining with the amount of screen time they have. There isn’t a single role wasted here, but particular mention should go to Mia Goth. She plays a dual role, including the old woman, and is able to make the most of both of them. Martin Henderson and Jenna Ortega are also standouts. Ortega in particular has already been in three horror movies this year, one per month, after showing up in Scream and Studio 666.

If there’s a problem with this movie, it’s the problem with a lot of West’s filmography. He’s never going to be accused of being a filmmaker that likes to have a movie with a frenetic pace. X isn’t quite as much of a slow burn as say, The House of the Devil, but it definitely takes a bit to get going. Of course if you’re paying attention in that time, you’ll be rewarded later. It also has some very weird moments that may not work for everyone, including one particular sex scene that is equal parts uncomfortable and tense.

X is just a good slasher with a lot of effort put into it. It’s a welcome surprise as an original horror film, because it seems Hollywood only releases franchise efforts to theaters anymore. A24 is still out there putting out quality work and Ti West is still a director to watch. Definitely give this one a look.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
X is a slasher movie that pulls no punches, and has a few unique things to bring to the table. While it fits Ti West's familiar 'slow burn' approach, it is worth the wait when it gets going. A strong cast, some creepy moments and believable villains make this a very worthwhile horror film.

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X, Joseph Lee