Written & Directed by Ti West
Slasher movies are so ubiquitous that it takes a lot for me to even pay attention to them. The main thing that drew me to this film was that Ti West was helming it. For those unfamiliar, West has become a modern horror icon thanks to his nostalgic yet never pandering films, The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, to name a few. His strength is in delivering the core elements of horror films from childhood but putting a strange, compelling spin on them. If you saw the trailer for X and thought you knew what it was, then get ready for a surprise. I went into that film with a similar mindset and was pleasantly shocked at how unexpected everything was. West has made a wonderfully self-indulgent slasher in the style of Texas Chainsaw Massacre that has so many twists & turns.
It’s 1979, and Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) is dead set on being the biggest porn star in the business. So her first step is to go on a road trip with her producer boyfriend Wayne and the cast and crew of his latest film, The Farmer’s Daughters. Wayne has rented a cabin on the property of a Texas farm without letting the owners know they are shooting an adult film. Immediately, there are some strange vibes from the owners, Howard and Pearl (also played by Mia Goth). The film shoot begins, and Pearl becomes intrigued by these young & beautiful strangers, lamenting how time has worn her body down. Eventually, something in the old woman snaps, and she lashes out at Maxine and her friends, leading to a night of bloody terror.
One of West’s clever things in X is constantly forcing the audience to associate what is happening in the porn movie with horror films. When Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), one of the crew, asks to be in the porn film, she’s met with pushback from her boyfriend/director at introducing a character out of nowhere. Lorraine responds by reminding her cinephile boyfriend of the twist in Psycho with Janet Leigh. That classic Hitchcock film is referenced again when a Volkswagen Beetle is found submerged hood-first in a swamp on the property. West has made a horror film that is also commenting on filmmaking. There’s a great moment where we see the porn film through the director’s lens, and with each piece of dialogue, we cut back to Howard and Pearl’s house, where those words take on dual meanings. The movie seems to be showcasing how image composition can recontextualize the same dialogue and introduce entirely new meanings. “We need to be quick; I don’t want daddy to catch us” means wildly different things that produce divergent outcomes.
There’s a great charm to X, something you don’t expect from these sort of country-fried slashers. The whole throwing together a cast & crew to make a movie has an excitement to it. Wayne foresees the prevalence of home video and wants to get in on the ground floor. The sex workers are never presented as immoral or harmful. There’s a fantastic scene where Lorraine, doing her director boyfriend a favor by handling the boom mike, asks how they can be so comfortable watching their partners have sex with other people. Porn vets Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Kid Cudi) share their philosophies about physical intimacy and how they differentiate it from love and relationships. Pearl has multiple moments of pathos, scenes where you can’t help but ache for her, realizing she has lost her mind and can’t be reasoned with.
Despite that, there is a lot of ageism inherent in this sort of story, and I find that disappointing. So much time is spent focused on the grotesqueness of Pearl’s body. I think there’s an angle to approach the film as commenting on how society views beauty in a very particular way and how the elderly are shut out from the realm of sex and nudity because of this. However, the movie lightly touches on this and prefers to spend its time building tension and establishing an atmosphere. West and Mia Goth collaborated on the set, and after X concluded, they continued filming a prequel titled Pearl. The film, likely scheduled for release next year, is set during World War I and will establish how it is that Pearl’s mind first began to crack and when her murders began.
I hope this second pass on the slasher character will bring new context to a lot of what we see in X. It’s clear that this is a movie made with a lot of love for the genre. X has a lot to offer if you are a hardcore slasher fan or even someone with a passing enjoyment of these movies. I’d recommend going in with as little knowledge of the details as possible, so you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the strange turns the picture takes along the way.