SXSW Review – X
***Warning: This review contains minor spoilers***
Ti West’s name has become synonymous with horror, even though his resume isn’t filled with genre-related projects. While he may not be as prolific as Ari Aster, he is still going to bring in the audiences familiar with his work. X (2022) brings Ti West back into the A24 and horror genre fold.
X derives its title from two different things in the film. X is centered around the production of a pornographic X-rated film. It also is used by Wayne (Martin Henderson), manager and producer extraordinaire, about his girlfriend Maxine (Mia Goth) having the X-factor. Set in 1979 in Houston, Texas (and the surrounding rural area), it follows Wayne and his cast and crew on their journey to film RJ’s (Owen Campbell) porno script, The Farmer’s Daughter. The group arrives on a farm after Wayne contacted the owner about renting their boarding house. When they arrive, the farmer, Howard (Stephen Ure), is old-as-dirt and off-putting with his hunched back, whitish-yellow hair, and liver spots for days. He specifically mentions not disturbing his wife Pearl, considering there is more in Wayne’s group than he was made aware of, and Wayne did not tell the man that they were using his property for a porno. Pearl’s presence becomes suspicious as the group settles in and gets to filming.
Initially, the film is framed in a smaller aspect ratio, but it is actually a barn door looking outward. The panning progresses outside until we meet the aftermath of this film’s plot. If you didn’t think X would be a bloody mess, this is your first indication that X is a slasher bloodfest. The smaller aspect ratio is revisited many times as the group is filming a porno in 1979, and we are able to see what RJ sees while he holds the camera.
X addresses the sexual liberation of the 1970s as the characters inhabit a conservative Christian landscape. The two strippers, Maxine and blonde bombshell Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) have reached the pinnacle of sexual freedom, taking off their clothes for money, and are not bashful about their occupation. With the leap into porno films, they are taking their career to another level. RJ views the film as “art” while Wayne views it as a cash cow ala Debbie Does Dallas. The male star is Jackson (Scott Mescudi, aka Kid Cudi), a Vietnam veteran unashamed of himself or the women around him. Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) is the sound girl assisting her boyfriend RJ in his endeavor to make a film. She doesn’t understand why these girls would want to do this in front of the camera. On the other end is Pearl, who struggles with her sexuality and, much to the audience’s chagrin, attempts to liberate her own libido in response to the men and ladies that showed up on her doorstep.
The creepy old people eventually do what the audience thinks they will do: go on a murderous rampage. Cue disturbing, boundary-pushing Pearl, who would honestly just like to get some, but the pushback and rejection are too much. Why do old people scare people? Although old is taken to an extreme here, I’ve never seen a senior citizen as gnarly as these two. We see photos on the wall of them in their prime, but the reason for their decline and the killing spree is never explained or addressed in any meaningful way. I guess I just want to go too deep to understand the motivation.
At SXSW, I met an actor in another film who said I should bring my own experiences to my reviews, so here is where I bring that into this one. While I don’t think that a horror film full of blood, guts, and horrible ways of dying is going for accuracy in its depiction, it is an issue if I’m laughing at how an alligator kills a person. From a zoologist’s perspective and knowledge, no alligator kill will ever be mangled and bloody seconds after being grabbed. It grabs its prey and drags it underwater to drown it. It doesn’t chew its prey into bits. While a kill of this sort is not as dramatic, it could have been just as effective seeing bubbles coming up to the surface.
X is an effective horror film filled with sex, nudity, creepy things, and lots of blood and guts. The score by Tyler Bates and Chelsea Wolf brings an ethereal quality to the scenes with breathy voices and groans sprinkled in; it is mesmerizing by itself. The setting and time period make it unique as it addresses sexuality and ownership of the paths taken. The comedy inserted into it makes it much more lighthearted than the average horror film and was appreciated during the heavier moments. However, the reason behind Howard and Pearl’s murderous actions is not fully explained, which made the film feel unfinished and lacking something story-wise. I can look past the over-the-top deaths if I can understand their motivations. Unfortunately, X doesn’t want to provide much of any reason for its ultimate purpose. There is news of an already filmed prequel to X, but it should not have to rely on another film to fill out its story.