MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Scott Mescudi, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, James Gaylyn/ Runtime: 105 minutes
I think it is safe to say that slices of cinema that belonged to either the realm of horror or pornography surprisingly had a fair amount of similarities back in the long ago decade known as the 1970s. Indeed not only were both types of movies that filmmakers discovered they could make fairly thriftily and easily outside the mainstream, but they were also looked down on by evangelical religions despite being popular with a distinct group within the overall public here in the U.S. and both had people who worked in them who may have wanted to elevate what they were working on and make it something better than moviegoers might have been expecting. The reason I bring this up is because it is this arena of sleaze vs. art that is tackled by film helmer Ti West in his new film, and slice of cinema I am reviewing today, X. Indeed here is a slice of cinema that from a narrative perspective is best described as what would happen if some of the members of the society of pornographers from Boogie Nights stumbled onto the set of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yet more than that, this is a slice of cinema that feels like a throwback to 70s cinema in regards to the delightfully sleazy work being done in front of the camera and the very 70s grindhouse style being done behind the camera which results in a love letter slice of cinema that is one that both fans of that decade and newbies to the horror genre will both enjoy in equal measure.
The plot is as follows: X takes us all the way back to the long gone year of 1979 as we witness a group of young adults as they head out to the backwoods of Texas in an attempt to make a porn film for the, at the time, growing home video market in the hopes that it will make them a pile of money and further success in the industry. This group of people include self-proclaimed super producer Wayne who is in desperate need of a hit, his cocaine-loving girlfriend Maxine who sees this film as her chance at becoming a bona-fide star, main star of some of Wayne’s other films/ gentleman’s club entertainer Bobby-Lyne, Bobby-Lyne’s co-star/stud boyfriend Jackson Hole, an aspiring helmer named RJ who wants to take this film and make it one that has just an equal amount of both artistic and erotic merit, and RJ’s reserved girlfriend Sarah who has come with to act as the film’s sound department. We soon learn that Wayne has chosen to shoot the film in a guest house at a desolate farm in the Texas backwoods even though he mat have not been completely on the up and up when it came to telling the farm’s getting up there in years owner who they are wanting to rent his guest house for a few days. In all fairness though, I may not be the smartest bulb in the light fixture, but I am willing to wager that if he did know he most likely would not be even remotely on board with it. As a result, we see that our intrepid group of heroes have to wait until their host is occupied elsewhere before they can finally get the cameras to start rocking and rolling on their masterpiece. However when, unbeknownst to the group, their host and his not all there wife end up learning their guests’ true motives, things take a turn for the horrific to the point that what was supposed to be a routine shoot has now turned into no more and no less than a battle for survival….
Now right off the bat I guess it should be said that X is a truly shrewd slice of cinema for how it gives the movie goer sexual material, semi-graphic nudity, and visceral violent content all in a movie that is constructed with a delightful degree of intellect to it. Put another way: this is a slice of cinema that is able to function in being both exciting as well as creatively inspiring that a lot of slices of cinema are all attempting to achieve. More than that, it seems that this slice of cinema’s helmer is trying to make a statement that it isn’t always explicit material that can ruffle people’s feathers the wrong way. Rather, it’s more in how the content in question is used. Even with that in mind, there is no denying that the cast and crew are having an absolute blast immersing themselves in this clearly exploitative material and then construct a narrative around it that actually possesses a degree or ten of insight about the material in question. Indeed key among the ways this slice of cinema’s helmer manages to throw our expectations for a serious loop in in the fact that the group of pornographers at the heart of the narrative are the protagonists that we root for rather than the elderly couple who possess what many would view as a “typical” set of morals. Along with that, it should be noted that a lot of thematic concepts at play within this narrative. Such concepts include the ramifications sexual repression can have on a person’s life, the struggle between the distinct systems of values that can exist between two different generations of people, the enticement that material which pushes the envelope can possess, the inclination to assign fault onto both the horror genre as well as pornography for everything that is wrong with the world instead of understanding that art is a reflection of reality, and the quite self-righteous at times view by evangelical religions to sexual and violent content in cinema to name but a few. Now this might appear to be quite a bit for a single slice of cinema to handle yet one of the most delightful things about this film is how wonderful of a job its helmer does at putting all these threads in the same movie whilst still being immensely entertaining.
With all of that said, this is still at the end of the day an entry in the horror genre of movie magic, and thankfully this film’s helmer doesn’t go stingy on us when it comes to giving gorehounds their fix. Indeed this slice of cinema’s practical effects department does a terrific job of changing injuries both tiny and pretty significant into moments that are both visceral and will make you wince in your seat whilst the camera is not afraid to show us the viscerality of it all. Indeed there is a sequence in this where we see the van’s headlights drenched in blood in a way that makes everything look like we are literally seeing red whilst another will make you literally spend the rest of your life afraid of getting a nail in your foot to name but a couple. Yes it might take a while for the violence to kick in, but it’s most definitely worth it when we see this slice of cinema go from a smaller-scale Boogie Nights to a blood-soaked horror film. It’s also worth mentioning that even though West is not entirely trying to copy the 70s film formula with this movie, he also by the same token is delightfully not willing to engage in a fake grindhouse style and would like to make this feel as authentic as possible to that kind of films. To that end, we see that this slice of cinema’s opening shot starts out looking like it belongs in a ratio that existed before widescreen only to then reveal we are merely looking out of a door. Along with that, we see that this slice of cinema’s editing department do a wonderful job of having us leave certain scenes with a synchronized camera stuttering that hints that this film is about to segue to something else whilst the music department does a great job at providing music that is perfectly tailored to the mood of a given moment from relaxed to just downright chilling in all the best ways.
Now I don’t think it is unfair to say that the work done by the cast in this slice of cinema are absolutely wonderful in nearly every way. Indeed in the role of Wayne, we get terrific work from Martin Henderson who may not be the proverbial “manly eye candy” that ladies enjoyed in movies like 2004’s Torque, but who does such a great job here as a scumbag with a heart of some degree of gold that I honestly would love it if he tried his hand at more roles like this one in future projects. Brittany Snow meanwhile gets to utilize every single talent of hers from her lovely singing voice to her wonderful acting ability. Yet lest you think her role is to just simply be a pretty face I promise you that most assuredly is not the case with this character by any stretch of the imagination. Meanwhile the rapper Kid Cudi actually does a fantastic job in the role of Jackson and actually makes the transition from singer to actor fairly well which is even more impressive when you think about how many Ushers ehhhh others weren’t able to do that as well. Meanwhile we see one of this year’s top scream queens in the form of Jenna Ortega take what is usually seen as the virgin role in these movies and proceeds to take it and spin it 180 degrees with the aid of Owen Campbell’s role which functions as a kind of contrast to her arc in the narrative. Yet whilst this cast does make for a truly wonderful ensemble, I think props should be given to Mia Goth separate from everyone else. Indeed this is because Ms. Goth is such a natural fit for the horror genre that she all but takes over the screen even in the moments where she is not the focus of whatever is happening at that point in time in the movie. Indeed what she is being assigned in this particular slice of cinema and what she ultimately gives the movie goer is something that I can’t really describe; rather I just think it’s one you need to see for yourself. Indeed there aren’t that many present day actresses who don’t care about their image on the level that she is and this slice of cinema is all the better for it.
All in all had this slice of cinema been paced in a more distinct manner then it is quite possible that you would see emerge before you the typical dilemma that occurs when a pair of slices of cinema in one film managing to butt heads quite harshly. Suffice it to say that this is one difficult balancing trick that this film’s helmer, his skilled crew, and the immensely talented cast have managed to accomplish with this slice of cinema overall with a film that is a wonderful high that you would think the credits would start to ease you out of. Yet in a stroke of genius this slice of cinema permits a brilliantly inserted track from Robert Palmer to keep the adrenaline soaring from you, the viewer right up until the end. Suffice it to say that being both fitting for the period in which it is set to say nothing of being in good taste (or as close to it as possible), every single bit of this slice of cinema is constructed to please and entertain and with that in mind there are quite a few distinct methods this slice of cinema utilizes in order to prove that to you, the movie goer. Indeed a lot of the joy that one could potentially get from this slice of cinema originates from not knowing what to expect which makes for a wonderful fit for the material that makes up the quite attractive packaging this slice of cinema arrives in. Even more appreciated than that is the fact that as this slice of cinema goes on, we see that there are a few narrative threads that feel like they are completely unnecessary. Thankfully, I can’t seem to recall a single question this slice of cinema poses that is not answered and as a result every single thread manages to come together to form a blood-drenched quilt that manages to strengthen the point that this slice of cinema seems like it is trying to convey. Thus with both a delightfully sinister and twisted sense of humor and a passion for sex and blood in equal measure, X is film helmer Ti West’s comeback vehicle after 6 years away and let’s hope we get to see more of him sooner than in another 6 years. Indeed much like the best horror films, this is one that is definitely worth checking out either on your own or with friends. On a scale of 1-5 I give X “2022” a solid 4 out of 5.