X is not for the faint of heart, considering that the old people in the picture actually die from a heart attack during a jump-scare scene.
Published on March 25, 2022
Rating 4 /5
The new horror film from Ti West, X, is a retro slasher but with a poignant theme. It perfectly embodies rural Texas during the 1970s era. It has that gung-ho style of the new while exposing the fears of an older generation losing a certain moral grounding. It is also just loaded with sex and violence of grotesque absurdity and intensity.
The film takes place in 1979 Texas where a band of pornographers aims to shoot their next big film on location. Their little sex flicks entitled The Farmer’s Daughters were to be shot on a real farm, as arranged by their business leader/producer Wayne (Martin Henderson). He has managed to rent out a cabin on a real farm owned by an elderly couple. What he hasn’t told the couple is that he intends to shoot a lot of sex scenes at their place. He also hasn’t told his crew about this either.
The crew has mixed feelings on this. The central pornography actors of Maxine (Mia Goth), Jackson (Kid Cudi), and Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) all seem cool with it. The film’s director RJ (Owen Campbell) and his girlfriend boom-mic operator Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) are feeling a little uneasy about it. Lorraine, in particular, considers herself a Christian and is already having major convictions about the business, let alone a business where she has to lie.
As their erotic filming continues as planned, the gang soon learns that they’re not as much in the wrong as the couple they’re renting from. The elderly couple Howard and Pearl have only grown more bitter with age. Howard finds himself despising all young folks, while Pearl is jealous of the sex they’re all having. Their bitterness and frustrations with growing old ultimately lead them down the path of slaughtering their visitors as both a means of generational revenge and an act of religious conviction for removing sinners from this world.
The film is staged beautifully in a manner that feels more natural than trying to amp up every ounce of the 1970s. The music choices are decent enough where the film doesn’t feel like a jukebox of a movie and the clothing feels surprisingly restrained. That being said, West doesn’t skimp on the sex and gore, letting it play a pivotal role in shaping the frights. The unlucky filmmakers find themselves being smashed with hammers, slashed with knives, and even being poked in the eyes by pitchforks. There’s a great style to it as well, as with the scene where someone is brutally stabbed in front of a turned-on car, the blood splashing on the headlights to create a deep red and sinister scene.
There are even little nuggets of meta-commentary within the picture on the nature of sex and violence. This comes about in one of the most intriguing scenes where the cast and crew discuss the movie over beers. Lorraine questions why Wayne would let his girlfriend Maxine have sex with other guys. The actors then open up about how sex and love are two different things, recognizing that sex may be something more fleeting than love. Sensing desperation not to waste her life, Lorraine then tells RJ she’d like to do a sex scene in the movie. RJ, even the filmmaker, argues it wouldn’t make sense as it would subvert the film they’re shooting for. Lorraine’s argument for subversion is the movie Psycho to which RJ retorts that they’re not making a horror movie. He’s right; they’re not making a horror movie, they’re in one and just don’t know that sex and violence go hand-in-hand with such a genre.
X is not for the faint of heart, considering that the old people in the picture actually die from a heart attack during a jump-scare scene. The violence is quite brutal, the sex quite graphic (more by horror standards than Cronenberg pictures), and the brooding sense of dread is enough to put most audiences on the edge of their seat. But for those who enjoy the classic slashers of yore, this is a delicious throwback of a picture that not only taps into a retro sense of terror but brilliantly weaves in themes of aging, dreams, relationships, and religious zealotry.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.