The Horror in Ti West’s Latest Venture, X (2022), Never Gets Old
First Non-Festival Release: March 17, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Ti West
Writer: Ti West
Runtime: 105 Minutes
Starring: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Wannabe adult filmmakers journey from the sprawl of late 70s Houston to an isolated farmhouse to film their inaugural “dirty movie.” Each has their own reasons for pursuing the industry. Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Scott Mescudi) know that they look good on film, Wayne (Martin Henderson) wants to get rich quick, RJ (Owen Campbell) believes he can make the first artistic porn film, and his girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) wants to be supportive. Maxine (Mia Goth), on the other hand, knows she is worth so much more than the life she currently lives and believes this is her ticket out of there. Unfortunately, the owners of their film set may give them trouble in completing their quest for stardom.
The sexy and smart cousin of similar Texas set slashers; X holds its own as a sleazy future cult hit.
What starts as a rather simple story unfurls into a truly riotous affair. Ti West’s seventh horror feature focuses on character development and a steady escalation of unsettling imagery to prepare audiences for the blood bath in the finale. The 70s aesthetic pairs well with the film’s choice in shots. The camera swoops in, splits into two scenes at once, and lingers in a way that evokes a particular nostalgia for grindhouse films from the era. In fact, it’s this consistent messaging on time that feeds into X’s unexpected commentary quite well.
Perhaps the most charming part of X is its commitment to deconstructing ideas of aging and beauty. What some might think of exploitation of the elderly, is actually an endearing and quite touching focus on how older folks are treated in society. Yes, Pearl and Howard are met with some condescension and mistrust by their younger guests and some of the moments in the film could be mistaken for jokes, but their treatment by West and his team is quite the opposite.
Age is treated with dignity even if the older characters are the villains in X. One of the most heartbreaking moments of X is the juxtaposition of the actors singing a cover of Fleetwood Mac's 'Landslide' while Pearl takes off her makeup. Pearl is given the opportunity to be a three-dimensional person who takes out her frustration and anger onto others instead of merely being a sideshow oddity. When Pearl and Howard choose to have sex one final time, it’s filmed the same way West shoots the “sexier” younger crowd when making their scenes. Moments like these add up to become a more sensitive yet complex narrative on sex and death.
Speaking of which, the concept of filming a porn while inside a real-life horror movie adds another angle of commentary. Both horror films and pornography, especially in the 70s, were considered low brow entertainment meant for satisfying the most carnal of desires. Since then, there has been a sharp resurgence in horror’s reception in society. The idea of “elevated horror” is widely received nowadays (despite that type of horror existing since the dawn of cinema) while porn has had a more complicated journey. Despite being a more sexually educated society, there is still stigma surrounding sex work and pornography. Even further, there has been a noted decrease in sex/nudity in films in recent years which has prompted many think pieces on why American society has become more prudish. Considering all of this, it is a phenomenal achievement that X was made and given the release it deserves.
The entire cast is phenomenal; each actor does a stellar job bringing their characters to life. Brittany Snow’s sex crazed yet sweet Bobby-Lynne has perfect chemistry with Scott Mescudi’s self-assured Vietnam vet turned porn star, Jackson. While less of a drive force in the film Owen Campbell makes RJ a surprisingly deep character both deeply confident in his craft while wholly insecure of himself and his relationship with Lorraine. Jenna Ortega, of course, brings her A-game to the shy and judgmental boom mic operator in a nice subversion. Martin Henderson brings plenty of bravado and good ole boy charm to Wayne, but the real star of the show is Mia Goth.
Goth’s portrayal of Maxine brings captivating to an entirely different level. Each moment she is on screen, she is every bit as electric and captivating as her lover describes. Transcending typical final girl tropes, Maxine is proudly sexual, assured of her uniqueness, and determined to live a good life. There is no false humility or uptight judgment from Maxine. She even cares about others even in times of great stress. Still, she is flawed with some abrasiveness and a certain tunnel vision on achieving her dreams, which adds compelling dimensions to her character.
X leans into its campy nature by ensuring the audience is having a good time through Ti West’s perfectly paced slow burn style. Littered with beautifully comic one-liners, the script is lively and breezy enough to engender enough goodwill to make it to the massacre promised in the opening. Jam packed with tons of wicked gore, X makes use of its fun premise with plenty of outlandish and memorable death scenes. Between some deadly farm equipment and a murky pond, the best surprises of X happen when one least expects it. Boasting an incredible soundtrack, X has enough expertly timed needle drops to quench the thirst of anyone longing for a time when slashers were only just becoming a mainstream phenomenon.
Unabashedly shlocky yet strangely touching, X is a gloriously fun horror comedy that leans into the ridiculousness of its setup. Full of fantastic performances, great scares, unexpected laughs, and timely commentary on aging and beauty, X is a triumphant return to horror for beloved director Ti West. As gripping as it is shocking, X will keep the viewer guessing despite its familiar setup and simple execution. Mixing an appropriate amount of West’s signature slow burn build up before unleashing in the electrifying finale, X makes it clear that it has something special over its competition.
Overall Score? 8/10