For horror fans, and movie fans in general, we have suffered a great injustice in the form of a 2 year pandemic drought in that kept us out of theaters for far too long. That being said, when A24 studios announced that they planned a release of a next generation slasher film, people got excited. X (2022) takes two taboo ingredients, the adult film industry and horror, and combines them under high-pressure cooker to create something that feels very inspired and fresh. Director and writer Ti West pulls together a stellar cast to create not only a fantastic film, but a homage to horror from the past.
Behind the Green Door
Those familiar with the adult industry often joke about the lack of plot. For example, if the plotlines of adult films were fathomable, there would be a lot more people signing up to deliver pizza and climb under the sink to fix the plumbing. Fortunately, this film take its story much more seriously. In fact, they goad the audience with a simpleton plotline as they build towards something much larger in scope. The movie begins with a cringey, but likeable sleaze merchant named Wayne Gilroy (Martin Henderson) pulling his favorite lady, Maxine (Mia Goth) from the Bayou Burlesque gentleman’s club.
It’s 1979, and Wayne intends take advantage of the exploding adult film industry.
Coming along for the ride, Lorraine, the seemingly virtuous, but sexy curious boom operator. Her boy friend, R.J. suffers from delusions of grandeur as he attempts to use his camera to create the next Citizen Kane (1941). Bobby Lynn, the old pro in the adult industry, works across from Jackson Hole, a consummate professional and heavy pipe layer. The group pile in a van with the words “Plowing Service” plastered on the side and head for rural Texas to film “The Farmer’s Daughters”. Jackson Hole, you got to love it.
The troupe pulls into a centuries old farm house owned an elderly and decrepit couple named Howard. He lives with his invalid wife named Pearl, unbelievably played by the same Mia goth. During their stay, the group offends some of the locals, triggering a cascade of horrific violence that threatens everyone’s survival.
However, underlying this thin frame of a narrative lies a deeper story. This story delves into the duality of humanity and how beauty and life change through time. We are all peacocks in the sun until dusk. Then, as life hurls us over our peak towards our end, it turns us into monsters yearning for youth and groping for the past. West also explores the aversion that the young have for the old, even though the old were once like them.
While we can’t say that X (2022) completely immerses the audience into a deep 70’s funk, it does create more than a few cool clichés. It begins by superimposing the year “1979” in huge Red White and Blue letters that would make Evel Knievel go green with jealousy. While Ti West presents most of the film in a fairly modern, and high-fidelity way. Periodically he switches to the muted colors and grainy feel of 16mm film when showing scenes from his film within the film. In other instances, trippy overhead scenes and LSD-like strobing effects straight out of Easy rider (1969) pull the audience back to the 70’s.
More than once, Ti West intentionally tips his hat to 70’s classic horror. As the van approaches the house it harkens back to the that moment in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) when they pull up to the Hardesty house. Additionally, the entry way of the home looks identical to that the long hallway where Leatherface runs down Pam before skewering her on a meat-hook. When you see Wayne’s silhouette in the screen door against the backdrop of a blue Texas sky, you realize that these similarities can only be intentional. Fortunately, West knows the line between an homage and shameless fan service.
The Casting Couch
if X (2022) claims victory in any single area of filmmaking, West’s deft casting takes that award. From the opening frames, Goth captivates with her simple small town girl looks, big dreams, and an avalanche size rail of fine Columbian cocaine. Simultaneously she pulls off simple, sexy and street-smart with effortless ease. Depending on the scene, Goth plays both cunning and fragile. The fact that she does all of this while also carrying another lead role, Pearl. Much like Maxine, Pearl appears weak and fragile, but she’s also dangerous and cunning.
Jenna Ortega’s story arc as Lorainne take from a simple girl that comes along only to manage the microphones to something more seductive and certainly more provocative. Her story also drives her boyfriend, RJ through an arc of delusional optimism, to free-love and deep and painful regret. By pushing him over the edge, Lorraine unintentionally kicks off a chain of horrific events.
Scott Mescudi, otherwise known as Kid Cudi, plays porn veteran Jackson Hole. With his big afro and progressive lifestyle, he couldn’t be more 1979 if his name were Billy D. Williams. Together, he and his partner Bobby-Lynne create real chemistry. Horror films so often find pretty faces with no substance to fill a kill card. Rarely do those characters have the panache and attraction of these two.
But We Came Here For The Kills
West’s film does not disappoint in the kills department. West does a great job of distributing his kills across a variety of styles and methods. The kills transcend the the tools. When we talk about variety, we are talking about fundamentally different kills with different set-ups, circumstances and style.
In one scene, West dwells on a slow methodical kill where the knife thrusts cause us to wince in pain as the seemingly never stop. Blood spurts in giant arcs reminiscent of Argento.
In another scene, one of the victims finds himself in a standard 80’s slasher setting, an old barn. Much like in a Friday the 13th film, West murders him the most 80s-esq way, via a farm implement. The kills sets up as predictably as any slasher ever made, and finishes with a giant exclamation point that feels both familiar and fresh at the same time. It’s boilerplate, but wow does it feel inspired.
West also finds time for a bit of black comedy as other kills explode in both horror and laughter. These shocks end as bombastically as Wendy Banjo getting dealt by a Mack truck in The Devil’s Rejects (2005).
A Breath of Fresh Air, But Not Quite A Classic
Make no mistake, X provides an extremely entertaining ride. It quickly finds itself in the company other great modern horror movies like Cabin in the Woods (2012) and Ready or Not (2019). It brings a fantastic mix of old tropes, tongue-in-cheek humor and a touch of ingenuity. However, West also writes some checks that it never fully cashes. It never really offers a concise reason why the killers want to kill the young filmmakers. This leaves its ambitious subplots of lost beauty and resentment of the youth somewhat unresolved.
Furthermore, West squeezes in another plot device in the waning moments of the film as if to take one last shot at being profound. When compared to another modern classic like Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (2003) or an old one like Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) it leaves something yet be desired.
Still, X (2022) provides a wildly entertaining romp in an old Texas farmhouse and should provide a lot of fun for anyone looking a modern spin on the slasher formula.