X opens in the endearing fashion of showing the conclusion to the story and then prompting us to ask what had happened on the secluded farm property that serves as the main setting. There are signs of violence and bloodshed as buzzards fly overhead and a sheriff arrives on the scene. We’ve heard the same lines before. “What the hell happened here,” or “sheriff, you’ve got to see this.” Hardcore horror fans may be rolling their eyes at the devices at play because they are all well-known to those who’ve seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or similar country-based gore-fests. Set a few decades back with a van full of young adults, the story premise is playfully straight-forward. However, Ti West’s newest film doesn’t just jump into the known sandbox, but plants its own flag firmly and proudly, expanding on the subgenre with style.
The van full of potential victims include three performers (Mia Goth, Kid Cudi, Brittany Snow) producer Wayne (Martin Henderson), cameraman RJ (Owen Campbell) and sound recorder Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) whom have rented out a small cabin on a farmer’s property to shoot a porno. Not just any porno, but one that has the potential to pop eyeballs and launch the group into stardom. “I want to be the next Lynda Carter,” one explains, which got a slight chuckle out of my opening night crowd. There were more laughs as the film went on and the horror is dispensed intermediately as the group arrives and is met by a grouchy farmer named Howard (Stephan Ure) while his reclusive wife hides behind windows. I’d discuss further but wouldn’t dare spoil the viciousness that awaits those that go to the theater to see it.
The movie doesn’t shy away from sex or blood, dispensing both with a sort of glee and yet it doesn’t feel like too much. The cast remains committed with the standout performance coming from Jenna Ortega, who right on top of her performance in Scream (2022) is quickly becoming a scream queen in her own right. Mia Goth also deserves recognition for fashioning a character that many would consider unapproachable but still is vulnerable and endearing.
West embraces his story, letting wide shots stretch the screen to show the wide yard of the farm or a funny bit of artwork as the characters leave the city. Overhead angles make the audience uneasy but informed, watching things we are powerless to stop while the closeups are reserved for the things we all expected from a movie with this title. There is some commentary on intimacy versus sex as one character discusses joining the filming shoot. “Well you can’t,” her boyfriend argues even as he’s the one rolling the camera on others who are all in relationships. It opens the door on what many couples question is acceptable or not and the simple answer is, to each their own. If you’re already caught in a horror movie, might as well enjoy the fun.
Meanwhile the elderly couple appears caught in the sort of bitterness and jealousy one could experience with age. There’s a longing for what they once had that will resonate with many viewers as age is a universal subject. There are often scenes to fill the runtime in slashers in which the characters take a break from the sex and slicing. West wisely lets these scenes actually matter.
The film could’ve tapped a bit deeper with these discussions but it simply teases us before snapping back into high-gear which is still serviceable. There is a lot of subtext I’ll enjoy finding in a second viewing. Audience interpretation will vary and that is one of the film’s strengths. You could find a thousand movies with young adults going off to a secluded location for sex and having horrible things happen. You won’t find a thousand films though. Those are far fewer and X is a film with style, fun, and commentary.
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