Written and Directed by Ti West.
Starring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, James Gaylyn, Simon Prast, and Matthew Saville.
In 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, but when their reclusive, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast find themselves fighting for their lives.
There will come a time for all of us when we are too tired (and possibly concerned about having a heart attack) to fuck. X (coming courtesy of House of the Devil writer and director Ti West) argues that everyone enjoys sex. It’s not exactly a loaded statement, especially considering the story is set in 1979, but it allows for an exploration of sexual freedom before a night of relentless terror.
In a Bible Belt area of Texas, lust is juxtaposed with a TV preacher demonizing everything from the rise of porn to intercourse itself, as right-wing prudes naturally do. Such fear-mongering crazy talk doesn’t faze a group of young filmmakers who have rented out a side area of a remote farm from an elderly couple without letting on that they are there to shoot a porno called The Farmer’s Daughter. One wonders how they would react if they did find out the true purpose of the stay.
X is also a movie with self-aware lines such as the notion of giving the people what they want, which is not lost on Ti West, who assuredly realizes that someone like me waxing philosophical about the life expectancy of sexual capabilities doesn’t exactly put the asses of slasher fans in seats. Those themes are prevalent, especially during a thoughtful conversation between the horny cast and nonsexual crewmembers about their sex lives and how letting one another take different intimate partners for scenes affects their romances if it does at all. However, it’s also a film fully willing to embrace exploitative genre roots, nudity, and savage kills while going about updating the dynamics of sex in a space known, up until recently, for only allowing the virgin or innocent final girl to survive whatever horror awaits. In other words, viewers get what they want alongside something else fascinating entirely.
Maxine (a moody Mia Goth oozing darkness and tragedy underneath her character’s ambitious exterior) is an aspiring porn star with a bad coke habit. That doesn’t necessarily mean she is broken or in need of saving; if there is one clear thing, she is confident in what she wants sexually. She and her strip club owner boyfriend Wayne (Martin Henderson) are enthused to be teaming up with horny couple Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Scott Mescudi, also known as Kid Cudi) alongside a filmmaking crew couple (Jenna Ortega and Owen Campbell) looking to kickstart their careers. Additionally, the latter is challenging himself to see if he can add artistic sensibilities and cinematography to a porno (which feels a lot like Ti West pleasantly injecting this sleazy romp with meaning). In contrast, his girlfriend has reservations about adult entertainment but is interested in exploring her sexuality.
Understandably, Lorraine’s (Jenna Ortega) interest in getting in front of the camera drives a rift between her and RJ (Owen Campbell). And while many will undoubtedly wonder if Lorraine is sure of what she wants to do or if it’s something that she should go through (especially considering these characters are roughly ten years older), the point is that people can’t be stopped from experimenting and living life. The script also realizes that RJ is in the wrong to try preventing her from doing so but empathizes with his hurt perspective.
But what happens when people, most notably women, are not granted that same freedom to enjoy sex? What happens when they are surrounded by people who can engage in those activities when they can no longer? From a screenwriting standpoint, Ti West’s smartest choice is subverting the well-worn expectations of lunatic evangelical Southerners asserting control over women’s bodies (although, to a degree that is still present) in favor of imagining what kind of metaphorical monsters can be born from lust itself. Granted, aspects here and there could be more detailed, but that’s also a testament to how well Ti West turns a cruel joke into something worth pondering on a deeper level.
Make no mistake, X is also a darkly funny, stylistically edited (trashy sex is juxtaposed with calmness and paranoia), memorably fashioned (there’s nothing glamorous about it, but Mia Goth’s revealing blue overalls carries a great deal of personality for the character and setting), hauntingly thematic (there is a stroke of brilliance I won’t spoil going on with some prosthetics), deranged bloodbath that takes inspiration from the best of the slasher genre and is proud to lovingly mock cheesy 70s porn. If parts of this review feel vague, it’s because the unforgettably uncomfortable insanity of it all deserves to be experienced blind. Above all else, it’s refreshing to see Ti West intelligently repurpose slasher tropes into a thoughtfully sex-positive injection of bloodlust and plain old lust.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com