Director: Ti West
Cast: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell,
Stephen Ure, Scott Mescudi
Genre: Slasher horror
Country/Language: USA / English
Duration: 1 hr 46 min
X follows a small film crew who rent a secluded cabin in the countryside to film an adult movie. The cabin is owned by a conservative, religious elderly couple who are in the dark about the crew’s salacious plans… so far. Nobody knows what might happen if
they find out. A blood carnage might unfold.
This is 1970s Texas: a time of deep moral and cultural divide in America. The social
context of this period is revealed to the audience brilliantly and subtly, scene by scene.
We hear the noise of the TV where a preacher bemoans the moral breakdown of
modern America and the hell society is headed to. It then cuts to the beautiful pornstar Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) in her parlor room, sniffing cocaine. In a way, she is ultimately what American evangelists fear their daughter could grow up to be. The Devil’s spawn.
The lost soul. Maxine dreams of Hollywood fame and sees adult films as her stepping
stone to stardom, and relies on drugs to push herself to film scenes. The rest of Maxine’s film crew include Wayne (Martin Henderson), a producer and de
facto leader of the film crew, Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), a seasoned porno star with
a Marilyn Monroe-like essence, and her muscular co-star Jackson Hole (singer Scott
Mescudi). The rest of the team are director RJ (Owen Campbell) and his girlfriend
Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) being the sole sound team. RJ and Lorraine are a young
couple fresh out of film school who are ready to take on the booming theatrical porno
Lorraine is at first hesitant about the shooting plan and its secluded nature. Unlike the
others, she senses something is wrong about the elderly couple renting out the space.
She is shocked to find out that the septuagenarians – Pearl and Howard – have no idea
about the crew’s motive. During the shoot, she feels awkward and can’t help staring as
the onscreen couple get it on.
In many ways, she is a representation of the audience. Unlike the experienced
professionals who are having a ball, Lorraine is uncomfortable and amused – and even
enamoured – by the entire business just like we are. In a way, this bizarre movie with
bizarre characters is able to emotionally hook the viewers with the help of a relatable
character such as her.
And this is how X succeeds as a psychological horror. X takes a strong left turn when
the character we have come to relate to and feel the most safe with does what we don’t
expect from her. And that is when we realise the thriller is in the process of switching to a higher gear: from being a slow-creeping psychological observation to something more wicked.
But even before all hell breaks loose, we are in discomfort about all the possible ways
this production can go down. The moment the libertine crew enter rural Texas, we
realise they are stepping into a coservative hellhole. The crew attracts menacing glares
from passers-by, and we feel the almost disturbing silence of the countryside, barring
the radio in a stop-by-shop that relentlessly blares the zealous words of a preacher.
X takes inspiration from the Golden Age of 1970s smut in its first half, and slasher films
like Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the second. But the psychological aspects of the first
half feel superior to the graphic violence of the second; it almost feels like a bummer
when the violence begins. When the first murder occured, I remembered thinking to
myself, “this is how the first killing happens?” It felt almost anti-climactic. The rest of the movie feels this way too as we begin to appreciate and miss the relatively bloodless
dread and discomfort of the first chapter. The erotic teasing of the first chapter expertly played itself out like a well drawn out foreplay, but doesn’t quite end with an explosive climax like I had hoped.
But while X does not fulfil its terrifying slasher potential, it succeeds in other ways. The attention to detail in the costumes, the radio music and the blue eye shadow on Goth are all call backs to the 70s. Even the scene transitions echo 70s classics, with the
stutter cuts reminding one of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), and the linear wipe
nodding to Star Wars. And of course, there is the grainy vintage filter, which can be
distracting in other films but is perfectly suited for X.
The cast is brilliant, too, with Mia Goth stealing scenes with her nymph-like mannerisms as the chirpy ingenue, Maxine. Amazingly, Goth also plays the role of Pearl, the mysterious old lady. The actress pins down all the little quirks of a senile person such as the almost slowmotion-like movements of the arms in one scene and the dreamy, lost gaze in another. Mia Goth really is a shining example of the model-to-actor pipeline which, contrary to popular belief, has provided Hollywood with exceptional talent.
X is an immersive psycho-thriller packed with stunning performances by Goth, Ortega
and Snow (with her ditzy film star style of speech), and visual “a-ha” references that
make it a slow – albeit hypnotising and fun – watch.
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