'X' review: Ti West's outstanding and uber bloody retro slasher is an instant classic
Courtesy of A24
Back on the feature film train since 2016’s “In a Valley of Violence” and first horror outing since minor stints in anthology flicks “V/H/S” and “The ABCs of Death,” director Ti West’s entrance into the realm of retro slashers with his latest slam dunk “X” proves refreshing and, oddly enough, comforting. Thanks to the resurgence of “Scream” and “Halloween,” not to mention originals “Happy Death Day,” “Fear Street” and “Freaky,” the slasher genre has enjoyed a grand revival, but “X” feels like the apex mountain for this new era of young people getting their bodies mutilated in grotesque, often, brutal methods. If all that sounds good to you, “X” is a hoot and one of the best theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. That shared communal experience comes in handy when someone is getting their, er, head and throat smashed while Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” rips in the background.
A love letter to “Friday the 13th,” “Sleepaway Camp,” and obviously “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” but also the adult film industry, “X” has assembled an incredible ensemble ranging from the versatile Mia Goth to 2022’s glorfield MVP and newly anointed scream queen Jenna Ortega (she had a couple showdowns with our pal Ghostface earlier this year in the excellent “Scream” revival) to help keep the story gelling. Usually, a slasher film sets up the lambs for slaughter, but West, who wrote the screenplay, gives us something (good or bad) to root for in each character. The filmmaker isn’t afraid to employ some amateur tricks either, giving the film a vintage 16mm flair with one incredible overhead shot that’s so juicy and brimming with tension to reveal it would be a major disservice. (Trust me, you’ll know when you see it).
The movie begins as all these stories do: a group of young, twenty-somethings hop in a van and roadtrip to a secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere where they won’t be bothered or tormented. In this instance, the squad is a crew of filmmakers working on a low budget (and I emphasize low) adult film called “The Farmer’s Daughter” in the outskirts of Dallas 1979. There’s Maxine (Goth), Bobby Lynne (Brittany Snow - who really goes for it and actually succeeds in every decision she makes), and Jackson (Scott Mescudi, better known as rapper Kid Cudi) as the on-screen “talent.” Behind the scenes, Wayne (Martin Henderson) calls the shots as the director/executive producer alongside cinematographer R.J. (Owen Campbell) who is eager to make a “good dirty movie” and his girlfriend, Lorraine (Ortega) is helping out as the boom operator although she might be curious about what it might be like to “perform” in front of the camera. The hope is that “The Farmer’s Daughter” can be released at the height of the recent adult video cassette boom and become the next “Debbie Goes to College.”
But before any blood is spilled, West creates a fascinating power dynamic between the crew and the one’s trying to cause havoc. It all boils down to being seen, heard and watched and boy does this movie enjoy tampering with the sexual awakenings of its entire cast, young and old. But considering what gets dubbed “horror” these days, “X” makes the most out of an eerie premise about what pleasure means in a cruel infested world. I won’t go into specifics on what that means nor will I reveal who is doing all the slayings, but I can almost guarantee there are sequences West creates that will live rent free inside your head for the next year.
Running a tight 105-minutes, “X” never detours far from its grungy, Grindhouse inspired roots (I’m honestly impressed this movie skimped by with an R rating) running a gauntlet around the entire cast with almost every choice, from characterization to the soundtrack, fitting nicely within the mold. You can feel the heat off the screen as these clueless frantics wander a near-deserted farmland where it would be wise to watch where they’re stepping (I haven’t seen a foot injury make me cringe this hard since Eli Roth’s “Hostel”). In every respect, “X” is a grandiose and inspired piece of filmmaking that makes the most out of A24s usually minuscule budgets.
You’ll either walk away enamored at the swings West aims for, impressed by the crafty prosthetics, or throw your arms up wondering ‘what the hell did I just watch?!’ Either way you slice it (and there’s lots of slicing and dicing), “X” is unforgettable.
X is now playing in theaters.