Synopsis: In 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, but when their reclusive, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast finds themselves fighting for their lives.
Stars: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure
Director: Ti West
Running Length: 115 minutes
SXSW Review: Here
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: We’re all about honesty here at The MN Movie Man, so I can share with you that as excited as everyone was when A24 and Ti West dropped the trailer for X a few months back to announce its impending arrival, I wasn’t drooling like most. Don’t get me wrong, the release of any modestly budgeted horror film is a cause for celebration because it continues to give clout to a genre often overlooked or dismissed entirely. There was something about how the preview presented itself, as this extreme answer to our humble prayers for blood, guts, boobs, and gore that rubbed me the wrong way. Even going as old-school as you want, that’s not what defined the best movies in the genre – intelligent construction and creative ideas pushed the film into the history books.
I had to search through my closet to find a hat I didn’t mind chewing on because after seeing the completed film, I’m finding that I need to eat my words a little. As crazy f***ed up as the previews for West’s movie have been so far, A24 has saved the best stuff for audiences waiting to see stars Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Martin Henderson, & more in this gore-gy of old-school bloody scares. Set in 1979 and enjoying every second of it, it’s raunchy and randy more than anything, with the actual violence erupting in spurts. Spending his time directing television for the last six years, West is back on the big screen with what is sure to be a high-water mark for his career.
Forgiving the film for starting at the end, with a Texan sheriff arriving at the scene of a bloody massacre and then jumping back 24 hours to where it all began, you’re instantly back in that transitional time between the carefree pre-AIDS period of the late ‘70s before the ‘80s welcomed in a new reality. Young Maxine (Goth, Suspiria) stares at herself in the mirror, delivering the kind of “You’re going to be a star” pep talk many young women likely did before entering a world from which there is no looking back. Here it’s the universe of adult entertainment, a business her boyfriend Wayne (Henderson, Everest) is hoping to break into by making a cheap XXX-rated film with a few friends over the weekend.
Loaded into a van with co-stars Jackson (Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, Don’t Look Up) and bottle-blonde Bobby-Lynn (Brittany Snow, Pitch Perfect), along with crew members Lorraine (Jenna Ortega, Scream) and RJ (Owen Campbell, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), the group is headed for a secluded farm Wayne rented cheaply for the weekend. Arriving at their location shoot, they find old-timer Howard (Stephen Ure, Mortal Engines) and his wife Pearl (both under layers of well-designed latex to age them) not exactly offering a warm greeting. Paying little attention to several red flags, including a nearby lake that’s got an alligator problem, the gang commences their shoot…and stirs up the murderous instincts of their hosts in the process.
The beauty of the horror in West’s film is how what we’ve come to associate as traditional horror almost takes a significant backseat to the horrific realities of the time and place the movie is set. Through signage and television programming, we’re constantly being shown images of religious revivals that feel oppressive. There’s a feeling from all that they might be able to do something different with other talents (Bobby-Lynn sings, accompanied by Jackson in one well-orchestrated sequence), but it’s their place in the pecking order that has left them choosing porn as a ticket out of town. That most pay with their lives for that ambition is the real tragedy of the story.
Please make no mistake; it’s terrifically gruesome as well. Always creative in the way he offs characters, West (The Innkeepers) spares no one an easy death. Like Tarantino so expertly does, your mind fills in many of the blanks, so he only has to suggest what is happening, and the grisliest violence happens off the frame, but it’s so visceral you’ll swear you actually saw it. It’s all well designed by a crack team of visual artists, with the effects in that department and the overall prosthetic make-up being a star attraction. One character is so utterly dependent on that make-up design, and I won’t say who, that a large part of the success of the performance is due to our not being able to see the rubbery creases when they move their head.
Speaking of performances, while horror traditionally isn’t known for its strength in this area, West has a full cast of dependable talent, and no one disappoints. Snow takes on a decidedly adult role for, I think, the first time in her long career. Campbell and Ortega (having a whopper of a 2022 already) make for an intriguing couple as we watch their romance crack under the production of the adult film. Henderson is a hoot as the producer with stars in his eyes; watching the 48-year-old run around in a thong for an extended period shows he is game for fun. It’s all about Goth though, playing a tricky role that I have to be careful revealing too much. Most reviewers will go the distance and tell you, but I’m going to hold back and let you discover it as I did. Anchoring the movie with a confidence that is more than just Final Girl bravura, Goth has created a one-of-a-kind leading lady, and it will be her calling card role for quite some time.
I tell you often to wait for the credits to roll to see what happens at the end, but with X, I can’t stress enough how important it is to wait until the end. There is something at the tail end of the movie that you absolutely, positively, must not miss. It’s worth those extra minutes, and you won’t be sorry you stayed. By that point, you’ll be riding such positive adrenaline waves courtesy of West and his crew that you won’t mind.