Directed by: Ti West
Premise: Set in 1979, a group of filmmakers shoot a pornographic movie on a remote farm in rural Texas. Things go bad when the elderly homeowners realize what the crew is up to.
What Works: X is a successful combination of a retro slasher film and contemporary art house horror. The movie is set in 1979 at the end of the “porno chic” period that produced movies such as Deep Throat and Debbie Does Dallas and the setting is very important. The characters are making an exploitation movie but with artistic pretentions; the porn film within X mirrors the movie itself. The filmmakers of X acknowledge the complicated sexual politics of this period and of pornography more generally and interlace those ideas with the cliches and conventions of the slasher genre. The combination offsets some of the audience’s expectations but it also makes X a thoughtful movie. Slasher movies of the 1970s and 80s were often accused of puritanical and misogynist implications and like many of the horror films from that period X deals with the return of the repressed. However, the filmmakers of X find a new angle. The movie explores interesting ideas about sexuality and desire and aging and in the process it presents a different kind of horror. But for all the movie’s intelligence, the filmmakers don’t run away from the sleazier appeals of the genre. X has a lot of sexuality and violence but everything in the movie is presented with purpose. The story is admirably unified. The filmmakers set up and pay off ideas and props but not in a way that telegraphs the direction of the story. X is also technically accomplished. It is well shot with interesting angles and effective use of lighting that creates a creepy atmosphere. This is a frightening movie and sequences are staged in ways that draw out the tension.
What Doesn’t: X borrows a lot from the early films of Tobe Hooper, in particular 1976’s Eaten Alive and especially the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. (In fact, there is more of 1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre in X than there was in the 2022 Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel.) A few of the references go beyond homage. X is bookended by a wraparound sequence that it doesn’t need. The film opens with law enforcement surveying the aftermath of the carnage and then returns to this sequence at the end. The wraparound doesn’t add anything except a self-aware joke.
Bottom Line: X is a thrilling and smart horror film. It comes from A24, a studio that has specialized in producing arthouse horror but X is more accessible and entertaining than some of the studio’s other films while offering more intelligence than we usually associate with slasher movies.
Episode: #896 (April 3, 2022)