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A24’s “X” is Where Horny Meets Horror [review]

One of the most talked about and highly anticipated films of the year is A24’s latest outing, “X.” Known for his subversion of the horror genre, writer/director Ti West returns to feature films after a 6 year hiatus to deliver yet another throwback to the splatter horror, 70s ‘splotation era of filmmaking. Right out of the gate you should know that “X” is most certainly not for the faint of heart. It is unflinching in its depiction of sex and violence, and works to blend them both together in a way you probably haven’t seen in quite some time. “X” is the epitome of when horny met horror, and gives a healthy does of both is this disturbing but well made splatter horror flick.

Written, produced, and directed by West and premiering at SXSW, “X” follows a burlesque review owner in 1970s who collects a ragtag crew of hopefuls to travel to a remote farm in Texas to film a porno. The goals are different for each, but the overall idea is to make a porno film as impactful as “Debbie Does Dallas,” and the hope for most is that they will all be millionaires. Of course, things aren’t always what they seem. The producer rents a back house from a strange couple and neglects to tell them what their intentions are. This of course, leads to disaster as the sun sets, and everyone involved (regardless of their reasonings for being there) become entangled in a series of events none of them could’ve predicted.

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What truly sets “X” apart first and foremost is the phenomenal cast. the film stars Jenna Ortega who’s recent work has begun to solidify her as a contender for scream queen; Kid Cudi in the best role he’s ever undertaken; Brittany Snow in a way you’ve never, EVER seen her before; veteran Martin Henderson; and stand out Mia Goth who is really doing the most with very little here. It’s hard to deep dive into all the things she does to make her a stand out without spoiling the film, but just know that once you uncover everything “X” has to offer surrounding her character it becomes harder and harder to deny just how damn good she is here. There’ really isn’t a single bad performance, and the small cast makes the most of every moment they’re given.

“X” A24

What also sets the film apart is West’s keen eye for visuals and tension building. “X” takes its time in building to its violent and blood soaked third act, and many may find the slow burn beginning to be a little too indulgent for a horror film. But West is a very capable filmmaker, and manages to create incredible tension even when nothing is actually happening. The use of sex through pornography feels purposeful and surprisingly meaningful, thematically.

Despite its graphic depictions, West’s patience to allow us to get to know each character and their motivations allows the events to unfold with meaning. It would be very easy to simply include overtly sexual content for sexual content’s sake. Given the spatter exploitation era that the film is operating in, this would actually be completely in line with the genre it is intentionally subverting.

Jenna Ortega “X” A24

But the sprawling motivations of each of the cast members that make up the crew allow for the sex to be more than just excuse to show skin. “X” is smarter than the surface, with some people there for pleasure, others there for fame, and some still unsure what their motivations are to begin with. There is a lot that gets unpacked (sexual innuendo intended) before the bodies hit the floor, which makes the gore-filled third act that much more rewarding. This film is everything Netflix’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” wishes it could be, immediately providing us which characters we are willing to invest in and fleshing them out in a much more meaningful way. “Massacre” provides us a full cast of people we can’t wait to die horrible deaths. “X” allows us to pick and choose who we want to root for, and then works hard to keep you on your toes and make the decision for you.

When the blood starts flowing, it does not stop until the final kill. West is in complete control of the chaos, constantly subverting our expectations while also giving us everything fans would want from a slasher type flick. “X” has some truly terrifying atmosphere, and some terrific kills that you are sure to remember for days after the film ends. There is also one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve seen on screen that doesn’t involve blood or guts or death. I audibly groaned in repulsion and almost had to look away at one point. That’s the kind of places “X” goes. However far you think a film like this can go, West barrels through each and every boundary with a sledgehammer.

Mia Goth “X” A24

Where “X” stumbles a little bit is in some of its execution. For example, the film is incredibly ambitious visually, and while most of the bold choices and shot composition only serve to make the film stronger, some of that ambition gets away from West at times. There are few shots and framing devices that make the film feel very artsy fartsy indie where it doesn’t need to be. “X” is already small in scale and scope and setting, and some of the visual choices actually distract from the overall effectiveness of the narrative rather than enhance it. For the most part, it is expertly crafted, but there are some bold choices that don’t always work as well as intended.

The film’s second stumble is in the third act, when sex and violence collide, and the two seemingly separate storylines begin to converge. There are some truly brutal kills worth relishing in, but there are others that feel a little restrained for the wrong reasons. For film that is as no holds barred as “X” is, anything less than everything feels somewhat out of place. Thankfully there aren’t too many stupid decisions that you would normally get in a horror film like this, which is why when they do make them it sticks out like a sore thumb. There’s one death in particular that feels anticlimactic and not nearly as cool as it could’ve been. It is especially disappointing becomes it comes on the heels on one of the better deaths in the entire film.

“X” A24

Overall, “X” is everything fans of the genre have been wanting for. Sexually charged, brutally violent, and smartly crafted are the building blocks of this really well made splatter horror film. Everything for the setting to the time period to the performances all help “X” to thrive where many recent entries have failed. It’s not for the faint of heart, and you should definitely understand what you’re getting into before you wander into the theater. If you aren’t ready for it, you’re gonna have a really bad time. But “X” is one of the better horror outings this year, with a lot to relish and leaves a lasting impression on anyone once the credits roll. I’m not entirely sure this is the message, but my final takeaway from “X” is simply this: have a lot of sex. Like, no matter what you do or who you’re with, never stop having sex. Bad things happen if you don’t hop on the good foot and do the bad thing, so save your life and make that whoopi!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

X” is now playing in theaters. You can watch the trailer below.

70%
Sexual and Violent
  • Intense
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