Ti West has a knack for blending retro and modern sensibilities. The two films that garnered him praise, House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, are made with a reverence for the style of films from decades past but executed with modern craftsmanship. His new film, X, brings these qualities to the forefront. This new horror film is a blast, guaranteed to please true horror fans.
The film's premise is fairly simple. A group of young amateur filmmakers plans to shoot an arty adult film on a property that they rent from an elderly couple. The elderly couple isn't as harmless as they first seem. The film acts like an old-school slasher with that plot but West uses it to flip the Puritanical bend of so many slashers into something more human and real. Rather than having teens get killed for having sex, they are punished for their ability to be lusted after, something that fades with age.
At the center of the film is Mia Goth, donning feathered hair and tons of lip gloss. Her character Maxine wants to be a star and Goth embodies someone who already is one. You can't take your eyes off of her. The supporting cast, including Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Jenna Ortega, and Owen Campbell all have their shining moments as well.
Wayne (Henderson) has pulled together this motley crew in order to appease his fiancée Maxine. He has pulled corners and when the crew arrive on caretaker Howard's (Stephen Ure) land, it is clear Howard has no idea that they are going to shoot a porno on his property. He warns them not to disturb his wife Pearl, who is unwell and reclusive. Things begin innocuously enough but soon the crew begins to have run-ins with Pearl and Howard. West is a master at letting the tension slowly build here.
X is a wise film, fully knowing of the tropes it plays on. The porn movie they are shooting has a laughable plotline about a salesman who encounters a farmer's two horny daughters when his car breaks down. Similarly, in the opening scenes of X one can't help but feel the influence of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other films that feature a group of young adults traveling to a remote place only to be slaughtered. But like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, West has more on his mind than gore. That horror classic has a criticism of the modern age within it as the Sawyer family has been put out of work at the local slaughterhouse because of machines. X is similarly about more than a bunch of people getting murdered. At its core, this is a film about the rage and bitterness that can accompany aging, especially when someone feels undesirable due to their age.
West is directing with all of his skills here. He plays with audience expectations wonderfully, making us laugh and then quickly making us horrified. His care in how every shot is crafted, mixed with the stylish editing gives the film a high-brow art-house feel but the plot is strictly smut. In this way, it mirrors the adult film the crew are trying to make. The connection West is making between pornography and horror is fascinating. Both genres have money shots and have audience expectations to fulfill. X gleefully plays with this idea.
With X, West has created the most original take on a slasher in some time. The way he flips the puritanical bent of so many slashers into something more human is wonderful. Here instead of some masked killer attacking horny teens, we get the way jealousy and aging turn into perversion. I still don’t know if every idea in the film comes into its own but I overall loved the central take here.