Ti West deserves to be a household name, God dammit.
Flirting round the mainstream with patient, brooding horrors like House Of The Devil and The Innkeepers, his intelligent and focused brand of throwback horrors have thus far evaded the mainstream and his time away from the genre fearures to concentrate on directing episodes of TV from everything from Outcast to Wayward Pines – but now he’s back and he’s done us the honor of unleashing X upon us thanks to the warm embrace of studio A24.
Focusing on the sex/death equation of the slasher movie in stunning new ways by mixing porn, tension and a stunning amount of gore, West has taken the most well-worn of horror sub-genres and given it a swinging-dick makeover that’s full of chills and spills as various bodily fluids hit the floor in the name of entertainment.
In 1979 we meet ambitious titty bar owner Wayne as he sets out with a motley crew of actors and filmmakers to make a porno as the wannabe entrepreneur has predicted the approaching boom of the home video market and is attempting to get on (or off as the case may be) at the ground floor. In tow are girlfriend Maxine Minx and fellow gyratory performers Bobby Lynne and impressively hung Jackson Hole and they all pile into a van with aspiring director R.J. and his shy, assistant girlfriend Lorraine and head off across Texas to a remote farm where Wayne has rented the guesthouse of a remote farm to shoot his masterpiece. Upon arriving at the farm, they are met by the extremely the old and crotchety owner, Howard who is blissfully unaware of what his guest are going to be up to but who still treats these young morals with distrust and scorn and after the awkward introductions, production starts in ernest.
However, their sweaty antics attract the notice of Howard’s wife Pearl, a woman who immediately fixates on Maxine, stalks the crew and gets increasingly aroused by the goings on that are happening on the farm – something that isn’t particularly a good thing as Pearl isn’t exactly the sanest woman in Texas and her husband has dedicated his life to pandering to her deranged needs. Jealous of these beautiful young people who have the world at their feet and express their free love whenever and wherever they can, Pearl begs for sex from Howard who can’t give he what he needs due to a bad heart, so the vicious old woman turns her attentions to the crew who are easy prey as tensions within the group have them unaware of the danger in their midst. Soon maximum penetration is achieved, but not by the tools the crew is expecting as Pearl’s lust and fury washes over them in a tide of pain.
While many modern horror directors strive to ensnare the same iconic, lightning in a bottle style as the brutally intellectual horror of Wes Craven or the shadowy, dystopian cool of John Carpenter, Ti West uses X to magnificently invoke one of horrors most overlooked mavericks, that of Texan gore flinger Tobe Hooper. With it’s bleached cinematography, wide open spaces, scratchy grass and an overwhelming, choking sense of American gothic, X ends up feeling more like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than any other film in history – including every single one of it’s sequels – by sheer tone and look alone without a single chainsaw or leather face in sight; unless, of course you count the weathered visages of the two elderly antagonists. This obviously can’t be by accident (Herman, with his single tooth and desiccated jewels even vaguely resembles Grampa from Texas Chainsaw 2), because the repeated appearance of a hungry crocodile and the disturbing use of farming tools also conjure up vivid memories of Hooper’s less loved follow up Eaten Alive and it’s about damn time someone embraced his work and got it so right to boot.
But enough about Hooper; this is West’s show and what a show it is. Examining the classic slasher’s preoccupation with punishing wayward youths with extreme violence, it turns things on its head by having antagonists who yearn for the pleasures of the flesh as much as the free living adult actors do. It’s a simple premise, expertly told as the movie refuses to hold back from sugar coating either the sex (copious nudity proceeds a truly cringe inducing shot of Brittney Snow’s uber-confident actress nonchalantly wiping a cup shot off of her back) or the stunningly staged violence as eyes are punctured, skulls are crushed and throats are stabbed with such ferocity that the victim is practically decapitated. It’s a legitimately thrilling combination and it doesn’t skimp on the smarts either as West ensures that the movie, with it’s porn star characters and psycho pensioners, doesn’t stumble into self-parody. In fact, X turns out to be creepy as hell and it’s infinitely helped by the intelligence of the material which ensures it’s characters are all three dimensional beings with dreams, fears and goals that very well may end up stopping short at the barrel of a shotgun or the prongs of a pitchfork. Prudishness, toxic masculinity, religious persecution, fear of aging and psychotic regret are all braced maturely inbetween the sex and slaughter which places X quite a few not has above you’re average bloodletter and the finished product may well be the most exciting horror of the year.
The performances are great with Mia Goth delivering a deceptively amazing performance (no spoilers here, but check out the cast list after you’ve seen the movie so see exactly how good she is) and Jenna Ortega (already a slasher veteran thanks to 2022’s Scream) further proving their mettle as they walk us through the twists and turns the script has to offer.
Those who wait until the end of the credits (made infinitely more easy by the robust deploying of Robert Palmer’s Bad Case Of Loving You) will find out that a prequel, entitled Pearl, is already in the can and ready to go which will no doubt add more layers to the already fascinating duo of her and her husband, but until then, X proves to be a triumphant return for Ti West with his exhilarating, sexy, stab-fest that’ll make you exceptionally glad you…. came.