Earlier in his career, Ti West established himself as a master of eerie, freakout horror, with films like The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Lately, he’s been directing a lot of horror TV, and he even made a pretty decent Western, In a Valley of Violence.
West returns to pure cinematic horror with X, a movie that hath no shame when it comes to slasher-and porn-movie tropes: This movie outright celebrates the clichés and delivers new twists on them in highly entertaining (and appropriately revolting) ways.
The film is shot so well in its dirty, gritty, grindhouse mode that decades from now, it could be shown to a film class, and the students would think it was shot in the ’70s. That’s due to both the authentic look of the film, and the probability that said kids would be high on whatever drug is popular decades from now. (I predict it will be a liquid drug called “Flazer” and will be injected into your third toe from the left while hanging upside down.)
There are things about X that I shall refuse to tell you. I didn’t know some important things while watching this movie; I found out after, and it amplified the experience in the aftermath. I want you to possibly have the glory of discovery I had after watching this movie.
The plot feels like a rehash of older movies—and that’s because it most certainly is. West, who also wrote the film, is definitely paying homage to the likes of Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven and whoever directed Deep Throat with his ’70s-era mix of secluded-area slasher flicks and dirty grindhouse porn.
Horror-film veteran Mia Goth does her best screen work yet as Maxine, an aspiring adult-film star who joins a film crew heading off to somewhere deep in Texas to film what they hope will be a pioneering porn. They, of course, find a house in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by a miserable old man (a nod to grandpa from Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the mutants from The Hills Have Eyes), and his even-more-miserable elderly wife. As the crew gets to fornicating for cinema’s sake, generations clash—and eventually, blood spurts from stabbed necks and crushed skulls.
Hey, X is what it is, and it is mighty good at it. There are moments that recall established genre staples like Texas Chain Saw, but there are also moments that recall the surreal creepiness that made West’s early horror work so cherished by genre fans, including a little post-slaughter dance by one character.
West deserves major credit for taking a typical setup and packing it with a major sense of dread, legit jump scares and solid gore. It’s a toned and terrific slasher-horror trip. It even has gator kills in it!
One thing’s for sure: West doesn’t have a positive and optimistic outlook on aging. The old folks in this movie are PISSED OFF; they hate the young folks; and they show that hatred.
Brittany Snow puts her Pitch Perfect days behind her with an often-funny performance as a porn star/potential slasher victim. Kid Cudi is good as another one of the would-be porn stars who breaks far too many of the “don’t do that” slasher rules. Characters approach creepy people in the dark, descend into the foreboding cellar for a flashlight, and swim in swampy ponds where gators and/or poisonous snakes could thrive. West and company manage to make all of these “mistakes” a lot of fun.
The movie comes to you from the fine folks at A24, easily the best production company these days when it comes to putting out quality horror. The Witch, Hereditary, Midsommar, The Lighthouse, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Under the Skin and High Life (also co-starring Goth) are just a few of the higher-level, artistic horror ventures about which the company can brag.
Stay through the credits for what is actually a trailer for Pearl, a prequel (starring Goth, yet again) that gives a little more backstory to the events of X. Apparently, West has already shot it, with a potential release date for later this year. Bring … it … on.
X is now playing at theaters across the valley.