'X': A Fresh, Stylish, Take on the Slasher Film
From the very first shot of X, it's clear that director Ti West is trying to recreate the aesthetic and style of horror and exploitation films of the 1970s. This is apparent from the grainy cinematography, production design, and specific editing choices, and it clearly influenced the film's narrative as well. The film itself takes place in 1979, and its general plot borrows from slasher films of the time, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre being the most obvious comparison. However, this isn't just a run-of-the-mill horror film. This is an homage to the very films that West is evoking with the look and feel of the film, and it makes for a fun, stylish, and exciting cinematic experience.
The film follows a group of people seeking to make an adult film in a secluded farmhouse in Texas. However, when the elderly couple who own the property start to show interest in them, things begin to take a dark turn. Based on that premise, you can rightfully assume that the film walks a fine line between being salacious and being horrifying. It leans toward the former for the first act or so, while building suspense and intrigue that allow the remainder of the film to pay off nicely. It makes for an interesting balance between the more steamy portions of the film and the more violent ones. This dichotomy is yet another way the film pays homage to 1970s exploitation films, but West puts his own spin on it, allowing it to slightly reflect modern attitudes of sex, and taking a look at heavier themes such as aging and mortality. It isn't the most deep exploration of these themes, but it still serves as some interesting food for thought.
What the film lacks in terms of substance, it more than makes up for in style, which is maybe the best thing about it. In addition to capturing such a specific aesthetic, Ti West has moments where he plays with different stylistic choices within it. The cinematography and editing are the clearest examples, and helps immerse the viewer into the film's time period. The film wears its influences on its sleeve, yet it never feels like it is ripping off any of them. If nothing else, this feels like a love letter, and shows that West has a true understanding and appreciation for the genre. His passion goes a long way here, as it greatly informs his direction, and gives the film some specificity, allowing it to stand out a little more.
To say this film is not for the squeamish would be an understatement. Even though it takes a while to get to the blood and gore, when it gets there, it is brutal. The kills are shocking and graphic, but thrilling all at the same time. While they aren't overly inventive, they still pack a punch, and are executed so well. In terms of the overall plot, much of the first section is devoted to setting up important details, all of which factor into the back half of the film. It starts slow, but once things take a more violent turn, it pays off so well. It also helps that the film's horror isn't fully rooted in blood and guts or boogeymen, as it also takes a look at the horrors of aging. It gives the film a layer of reality within the more heightened stylization of it, even if it doesn't explore this theme as deeply as it could have. In terms of overall narrative, West has some interesting ideas, but some of them could have been fleshed out a little more. I feel like he wants to accomplish more than he does, when it might have worked better if he kept the focus somewhat simpler. But given that West wants to expand on this film with other installments, perhaps he will expound on some of the elements that felt underdeveloped.
The film is bolstered by a great cast, led by Mia Goth who is fantastic as our protagonist, Maxine. It's a bit of a quiet performance, but she has such a fascinating presence throughout the film. Jenna Ortega once again makes the case for her status as the scream queen of her generation, as she makes the most of every scene she's in. I really hope that her career continues to skyrocket, as she is definitely one of our best up and coming young actors. Brittany Snow gives a scene stealing performance that somewhat serves as the film's comic relief. She embodies her character fully, and while she is giving the film's biggest performance, it never feels too exaggerated. I also was pleasantly surprised by Scott Mescudi's (better known by many as Kid Cudi) performance, as he brings such confidence to his character, and fits the role nicely.
While I wouldn't recommend X to just anyone, there is a specific audience that should find plenty to like here. Horror fans should be pleased, as should those who have an appreciation for 1970s grindhouse films. For me personally, I find this film to be a breath of fresh air amongst the sequels and reboots that have been dominating the horror genre as of late. It's just nice to see something that feels more unique in the grand scheme of things, even if it is reminiscent of other films. I can see this being one that I will like even more as I sit with it, as it has stayed on my mind since I left the theater. I appreciate the filmmaking, which helps cover up some of the flaws in the film's screenplay, and the film itself is such a visceral experience. This is an early candidate for the best horror film of 2022, and could be the start of something even bigger if Ti West's plans to expand on the world of the film come to fruition. Time will tell either way, but if nothing else, X is a fresh and invigorating film that is equal parts shocking and sensational.