[review by JA Kerswell]
Ti West's X (2022) was a surprise hit for production company A24. A love letter to not only the classic slasher movie, but especially Tobe Hooper's twin rural 70s shockers THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and EATEN ALIVE (1976). However, despite its impeccable period detail and excellent acting, some viewers may be frustrated by West's patented slow burn approach (the first murder doesn't take place until just shy of the hour mark). But those with patience will be richly rewarded by a surprisingly funny, thought-provoking and deliciously nasty little shocker.
|Ti West makes more than a few visual nods to Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE!|
The setup for X couldn't be any more classic. A group of people travel to an isolated location and are picked off one-by-one in increasingly gruesome ways. The group in question are planning to make a low budget porno feature called THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER. Led by producer and director Wayne (Martin Henderson), the group consists of adult actors Maxine (Mia Goth), Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Kid Cudi). They are joined by cameraman RJ (Owen Campbell) and his girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), who handles sound on the production. Adding to the Hooper vibes, Wayne has hired a property adjacent to a remote Texas farm house. He is renting it from a seemingly decrepit and senile old couple Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (also played by Mia Goth in old age make-up). Wayne has not told them that he is using their property to make an adult feature and soon the group get down to the action unaware that the couple are spying on them ...
With X West is less interested in making a straight ahead slasher movie. Rather he utilises the classic framework to create something akin to a Russian Doll of a movie - that is as gory as it is mysterious as it is funny. That's not to say he doesn't hit many of the key notes. The slow burn of the first half gives way to an increasingly violent second half, with eyes being poked out and the Texan soil being soaked in arterial spray. The film seems to set itself up for a culture clash between the adult film makers and a conservative elderly couple. The ever-present buzz of evangelical preaching coming from their television suggests religious fundamentalism is the driving force behind the ensuing violence. However, the twist is that the old couple - especially Pearl - are seemingly more turned on by the presence of the porno crew. It not only awakens Pearl's latent sexuality and yearning for lost youth, but also a thirst for violence. It becomes a bloody battle between the new and old flesh. It's clear that Pearl and Howard are the degenerates and not the crew, but West is coy as to their real motives.
|Mia Goth as Maxine in Ti West's X.|
The director is also ambiguous around whether he thinks the porn industry is empowering or degrading. The actors treat sex on camera as merely work and the group is largely amiable. Even Lorraine - who is hired as crew - pleads to be able to do a scene in the movie after repeatedly being teased by Wayne as being prudish - or as he calls her a "church mouse". Wayne simply sees dollar signs with the movie, whilst some of the humour comes from RJ's delusions of grandeur when he declares: "It is possible to make a good dirty movie". In X sex quite literally equals death, but West treats his characters with a lightness of touch that makes them feel more human - although none are especially developed beyond what we are originally introduced to. Apart from, of course, Mia Goth's Maxine - who veers between a wide-eyed gum chewing teen and something almost otherworldly. It is left up to interpretation as to why Goth is playing the two characters. In a final twist, it is revealed that Maxine is the daughter of the fundamentalist preacher heard constantly on Howard and Pearl's TV set. Whether the whole film is some kind of metaphysical battleground between her conservative upbringing and her new life as an adult actress is up for interpretation. Perhaps the upcoming MAXXXINE will provide some answers. Goth as Pearl is also surprisingly nuanced, and the character veers from sympathetic, pathetic and gleefully hyper violent.
The presence of Tobe Hooper lingers throughout the film. Despite a distinct lack of power tools, the remote farm house setting intentionally echoes the pastoral horrors of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Sections of that film, if not recreated entirely, are visually alluded to - such as Maxine approaching the property through the long grass and lingering at the door of the farm house. Both Howard and Pearl bring to mind the Sawyer Family's decrepit patriarch, albeit much more nimble when it comes to killing. The crocodile lurking in the nearby lake is also a clear nod to Hooper's EATEN ALIVE - which is another film where those involved in sex work come to a sticky end courtesy of a backwoods psycho. The presence of the Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper on the soundtrack brings to mind John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1978) - which would have still been in release during the time period that X is set.
|Mia Goth in dual roles as both Maxine and Pearl in X.|
Many of the cast are horror veterans. Martin Henderson had previously appeared on Gore Verbinski's THE RING remake in 2002. Brittany Snow gives a great performance as somewhat battle-worn, but still warm adult actress. She had previously battled a psycho in the awful PROM NIGHT remake from 2008. Jenna Ortega is also no stranger to battling slasher villains, having appeared in THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN (2020) and taking the lead in the reboot of SCREAM (also 2022) and it's upcoming sequel SCREAM 6 (2023). Mia Goth is no stranger to the horror film either, with the actress tending to choose projects with darker themes such as Luca Guadagnino's SUSPIRIA remake (2018). West, of course, is also no stranger to the genre having directed slow burn horrors including HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) and THE INNKEEPERS (2011) - both of which also take place in retro timelines and are interested in ideas outside of the normal genre limitations.
X was filmed in New Zealand in February to March 2021. During a break from filming because of COVID lockdowns, West worked with Goth on the prequel PEARL (also 2022) - which was filmed back-to-back. The film was something of a sleeper hit - taking nearly $15 million in worldwide box office takings on a $1 million budget. The upcoming MAXXXINE purportedly features Goth's character in mid-80s Los Angeles.
female: 3 / male: 4
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