I think it’s fair to say upfront that I’m not really familiar with the works of Ti West. I’ve heard of some of his films, but I’ve never actually watched one of them from beginning to end. That said, whenever A24 releases a horror film, I am intrigued as their kind of horror is the kind of thing I’m interested in and, seeing the trailers, this looked like an interesting throwback to the 70s style of horror, particularly something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Whilst I did find this to be an interesting film, the horror elements are where it felt a bit flat to me.
The film follows a group of people who are embarking on a road trip in Texas to shoot a pornographic movie, amongst them Maxine, who wants to use the film as a shot to stardom. At the house they are staying at, the crew have some difficulties with the elderly owners, with this eventually leading to a situation where the crew are being hunted down and killed one by one. There are some interesting ideas raised in the film about the nature of sexuality, in terms of how attitudes towards sex change depending on age and location, with a conservative Televangelist being heard in the background of some scenes, along with the nature of control over sexuality. There are ideas at play over how pornography and intimacy interact and how these relate to different cultural attitudes towards sexuality. These elements are easily the most interesting part of the film, to the point that, when the slasher element of the film came into play, I was a bit taken out of the film. I can understand the intention of Ti West here on a metatextual level in detailing the similarity in style, attitude and production between pornography and horror, with the title being a reference to the MPAA rating often associated with these types of films, but I found the dramatic elements of the film to work a lot better than the horror elements.
The performances as well are pretty solid throughout. Mia Goth does a good job at showing someone in control of her sexuality and her clear desires for stardom come through throughout the film. She does have a dual role in the film, but I don’t want to say more for fear of spoiling the film, although I’m not quite sure how effective the choice of doing it as a dual role is, at least right now (I understand there’s going to be another film following some of the characters coming out soon so that may give a bit more justification for the dual role). Martin Henderson has the right kind of arrogance and ego for his character and Owen Campbell does some good work showing how his ambitions for the shooting of the film are a bit too lofty, but also showing his own hypocrisy over the content of the film. Scott Mescudi and Brittany Snow are solid at showing the dynamic between personal and professional lives of pornography actors and Jenna Ortega gets some good moments showing someone coming to terms with her own sexuality. Stephen Ure also gives a strong performance, acting as an intimidating presence throughout the film.
The technical elements of the film are pretty solid. The direction of the film shows a clear love for the horror films of this era throughout, there being a few points where you can feel the stylistic influence of something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the film makes good use of New Zealand as a substitute for this area of America, aided by the production design of the film. There is a lot of impressive make-up effects here, although to go more into detail would spoil the effect, and the music has the right vibe for this kind of film. If there is one part that got a bit distracting for me it was the editing, mainly with a recurring scene transition which was well executed and impressive the first time, but as it was used more repeatedly it got pretty stale to me.
Overall, I found X to be pretty good overall. Whilst I personally found the dramatic elements to be more engaging than the horror ones, this is still a well made film and a solid throwback to this era of horror and I am interested to see how Ti West expands this world he’s created in the future.
My Rating: 3.5/5