Written by Jack Ransom
Combining the two most prominent elements of the slasher genre: sex and slaughter. X is a slow burn throwback to the mean spirited and brutal era of 70’s horror captures the essence of the time period it is homaging perfectly and is a simultaneously refreshing if familiar affair that certainly doesn’t hold back from toying with the viewer’s expectations…as well as delivering exactly what you expect from the material.
From cult horror director Ti West. X is set in 1979, and follows 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.
The first hour or so of the film is very much heavily focused on the characters and provides far more insight into the film crew and the elderly couple of whom they enrage with their sleazy shenanigans. It does somewhat overstay its welcome though, as much as I appreciate West trying to add more to the characters in a genre that rarely bothers to do so.
Thematically speaking the film is extremely eye-winking and meta in its commentary (at the halfway mark Jenna Ortega’s character essentially tells the audience - “Don’t worry all that blood and guts that you’re here for is just around the corner.”) as well as the ideas of what separates art from smut and the inevitability of old age and jealousy of youth. This is all well presented, but the film still can’t fully escape its genre traits and tropes to make it truly feel standout.
Those that aren’t comfortable with gratuitous and graphic sex turn away now. West essentially takes us behind the scenes of a porno for extended periods of time (at one point cleverly swapping between an incredibly awkward and tense encounter with Maxine and Pearl (both played by Mia Goth) to match cuts and lines in the film script). West bringing back the ‘creepy old people’ trope is helped by dousing them in shadows and is executed impressively. The film is well crafted with great cinematography and callbacks aplenty to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Friday the 13th to name but a few. Execution is also plentiful in the final third, with buckets of squishy, visceral and at times shocking splatter and carnage, though, again, several of the kills are what you will have seen a lot of before.
The performances are strong all around. Mia Goth’s stardom driven and off-kilter Maxine is largely our POV character and she also delivers a suitably tragic and uncomfortable performance as Pearl (the elderly wife). Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi & Martin Henderson all perfectly encapsulates and relish the horniness of their line of work, whilst Jenna Ortega (who has more than certified herself already as a new horror Scream Queen this year, with this, Scream & Studio 666) and Owen Campbell contrast by wanting to make a genuinely great ‘film’ rather than simply just smut.
X is a fun time that fans of the retro slasher era will surely enjoy. The build up is admittedly a little too slow, and though its winking meta dialogue and commentary on what counts as cinema are slickly implemented, the film still can’t fully stand out from the genre it so loves. However the practical effects, stylistic choices and committed performances make for a bloody entertaining watch.