Throwback horror serves many a purpose when it’s done well. Not only does let you appreciate what’s come before, but it also potentially introduces a whole new audience to the glory days of the genre. In making X a hybrid of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a behind the scenes look at the making of something like Debbie Does Dallas, the film manages to blaze its own trail while bowing its head to cinematic history. Regardless of if you’ve seen 70’s fare or not, you can understand what’s being homaged, as well as what’s being satirized or even given a new spin. The movie is very good on its own, but the more you get it, the better it becomes.
X is a great example of how you can honor the genre classics while still very much doing your own thing. Plus, in mixing horror with pornography, it’s a surprisingly deft showcase for how both types of filmmaking has an entrepreneurial and independent spirit. Writer/director Ti West knows his scary movies, but he also knows how to pay tribute while not just being a copycat. His affection meets with his strong storytelling to delivery arguably his most complete flick to date. West has made throwbacks before, but this is his best one yet.
Set in 1979, we initially see the aftermath of a grisly crime scene, before being introduced to our protagonists. They are a young group of aspiring adult filmmakers, planning to set out and make a groundbreaking porn film deep in rural Texas. Producer Wayne (Martin Henderson) has driven stars Maxine (Mia Goth), Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), and Jackson (Scott Mescudi), along with writer/director/cinematographer RJ (Owen Campbell) and his girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) all the way from Dallas in the hopes of riches. Renting a place from elderly farmer Howard (Stephen Ure), everything is perfect…or so it seems.
Of course, it’s not just moviemaking and sex that takes place here. Howard doesn’t like and is suspicious of the ground. However, it’s his wife Pearl (more on who plays her below) that’s far more interested in what they’re doing. Once she realizes, a chain of events is set in motion that leaves quite the body count. The blinder you go in to this one, the better, as X has some genuine surprises up its sleeve.
The cast are all able to breathe a little extra life into their characters. Mia Goth is essentially our lead, and she’s excellent. Goth portrays a bright eyed would-be star magnetically, and that’s without taking into account what else she’s doing. Martin Henderson gives his entrepreneur a Matthew McConaughey like vibe that makes him more likable than slimy. Scott Mescudi (AKS Kid Cudi) brings charisma and intensity to probably the most interesting role in the film. Brittany Snow is having a blast as a sex pot, while Owen Campbell and Jenna Ortega have a surprisingly chart to their relationship. The rest of the cast includes James Gaylyn, Simon Prast, and a few others Now for a mild spoiler that you can skip right past if you so desire: Goth also plays Pearl, and it’s an extraordinary transformation. Truly, this is her best work to date.
Filmmaker Ti West doesn’t skimp on the gore, but X is about investing you in the characters and story, first and foremost. West spends more than half of the movie building tension while also providing context to all of his characters’ actions. You would easily watch a version of X just centering on a non-horror version of this porn shoot. Throughout his career, West has made genre work that contains bits that are far from said genre but still tremendously well realized. This is just another example of that deft skill.
X will delight gore hounds, but anyone who enjoys quality indie cinema should get a kick out of this one. In particular, Ti West fans are about to be rewarded with some of his finest moviemaking. A24 has likely a future cult classic on their hands here, but don’t wait that long. See it now and bask in the genre filmmaking on display!