By: Kayla Caldwell
Ti West's X is a "foxy car wreck" you can't look away from. It's a sexy thrill ride that truly encapsulates the vibe of beloved 70s horror, while also feeling fresh. Set in rural Texas in 1979, X is big Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibes, visually. It's those fiery sunsets, and giant fields of grain that make me brace myself, because someone - or something - is bound to come running. Horror fans who felt Netflix's Texas Chainsaw Massacre was perhaps too modern, will love the authentic, vintage feel of X. One thing about Ti West is, the man can nail a vibe. X feels like an old school horror in all the best ways.
It follows a crew of dancers and aspiring filmmakers from a small town, as they set out to film their own porno. On-off couple Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Kid Cudi) are two of the film's stars, along with Maxine, played brilliantly by Mia Goth. She's dating the man in charge, Wayne (The Ring's Martin Henderson). Last but not least is RJ (Owen Campbell), the camera man, and his girlfriend, Lorraine or "Church mouse," is played by our new scream queen, Jenna Ortega. They rent a guest house on this creepy, old farm, but fail to tell the man of the house (Stephen Ure) what they are renting it for. Wayne, X's answer to Matthew McConaughey's character in Magic Mike, says it's better to "beg for forgiveness than ask for permission."
These characters could be the kind of classic archetypes that you might find boring, or even just not care about. There's the aspiring actress who insists she's a star, and the porn director who earnestly claims he's going to class up the entire genre. There's the sex-crazed couple, and the shy hottie who would typically go on to become the "final girl." They're young, they're hot, and they know it. But they're actually not unlikeable. They're flawed, but sex-positive, free-spirited, and confident. It made me wonder, is this what life can be like when you overcome years of ingrained religious guilt? What a hoot.
The music is fantastic, and perfectly cues up the emotions of the scenes. The vibe is open-minded and youthful - that is, until the horny old lady of the farm stumbles upon what these renters are up to. Think the old woman from the bathroom in room 237 in The Shining, except that she doesn't just kind of disappear when you back out of the room awkwardly. Here we transition from tits and a** to blood and gore. West knows how to build suspense, and uses that skill wisely. Multiple times I found myself chanting in my head, "OhnoOhnoOHno."
X challenges the final girl trope, and says a lot about how society views the elderly. It's not a reminder to live in the moment, because the film crew are already talking about making the most of their youth. Aging is a monster in and of itself in X, threatening viewers with their own mortality, and forcing them to witness the pain of having grown into someone you no longer recognize. Lit 101 analysis aside, X is also just "one goddamn f***ed up horror picture," and it is a blast.
Goth and her killer eye shadow are fantastic. It's funny, because Maxine so desperately wants to be a star, and that's exactly what Goth is, slaying multiple roles in the film. She plays Maxine with a believability that gives X some real stakes. It's also nice, because while X channels the old horror films, the final result is arguably fresh. Give us a final girl who knows her worth, is confident without guilt, and doesn't care about the pointless construct that is virginity.
You see a new side of Snow, who has often played the somewhat innocent girl-next-door. She does, however, show off those Pitch Perfect pipes with a beautiful rendition of "Landslide," before all hell breaks loose. This crew is horny, eager, and hilarious. They're fun to watch, but don't get too attached. The kills in X run the gamut from standard slasher to genuinely surprising (like, audibly gasp in a public theater, surprising).
At 105 minutes, X doesn't overstay its welcome, but it does leave you wanting more (tip: stay after the credits!). The third act bloodbath should satisfy horror fans, and I'd be surprised if we didn't see some X cosplay come Halloween. X is the kind of movie that makes you look up the director on IMDb to see what to watch next. (Note: The Innkeepers totally holds up!)
In a world with COVID-19 and sky-rocketing gas prices, it can be a hard sell to actually venture into theaters. X is well worth the trip. From the cinematography to the stellar music choice and wild kills, X is a blast to watch on the big screen. X is an instant classic that will be celebrated alongside longtime genre favorites.
X is in theaters now!