Written By Hayden Claborn, Entertainment Reviewer
What struck me the most about X, the new film by Ti West (The House of the Devil) about a group of pornographers who run into a bit of trouble on their quest to make a dirty movie, is that it’s function of being an homage to Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is skin deep. Outside of being set in the lone star state and taking place in the 1970s, West doesn’t follow the playbook. To put it bluntly, X is a strange film– it’s much more peculiar than advertised.
The year is 1979 and we open on adult actress Maxine (Mia Goth) snorting a hardy line of coke in a dressing room. We’re then introduced to her Texan fiance and adult film producer Wayne (Martin Henderson) who along with the nerdy director RJ (Owen Cambell) have their sights set on making a good porno set at a Texas farmhouse. The other crew members are the two stars Bobby (Brittany Snow) & Jackson (Kid Cudi) and the mousy cross wearing boom operator Lorriane (Jenna Ortega).
The slasher sub genre isn’t known for its tantalizing scripts. At the end of the day, many films play into the game of serving up unlikable characters and delivering gory kills to appease the audience who cheer and clap when a character gets hacked to bits. But the script, also written by West, is shockingly good. It crackles with clever dialogue and good characterization. The first half is more akin to Quentin Taratino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, capturing the hangout-like nature of the filmmaking process. When the cameras aren’t rolling, people banter and have a good time. We get a sense of what this shoot means to our characters. The set up of making a dirty movie is more than just an excuse for some T&A.
Having the film set in 1979 is a curious choice as well. We’re witnessing the last gasp before the wave of 80s conservatism and commercialism. A major throughline is footage of televalnogist playing on the TVs, foreshadowing where American is heading. X in manys ways is about the end of the golden age of porn.
This all makes X not sound like a horror film but don’t worry, it definitely is. The main figures of horror are an elderly couple that own the farmhouse with the wife Pearl becoming infatuated with Maxine. West and his editor David Kashevaroff frequently use the technique of juxtaposition to create these eerie images sometimes splicing in different actors to shots. The gore on display is nasty and made me squirm a few times.
X is in no way groundbreaking and can sometimes come off as a bit slow as the pacing becomes a bit wonky in the second half. But if you’re willing to put in the time, you’ll receive a good dirty movie occupied by stellar direction and a great cast with characters you don’t mind hanging out with until death comes knocking.