Directed by Ti West
Starring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson,
Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, James Gaylyn
“X is an extremely good horror movie. Scary, smart, knowing. Oh. And entertaining.” Stephen King
When a film gets a quote like that, that’s pretty much a mic drop moment for the filmmakers. On the same token, it now has a lot to live up to when you go see it. But King is dead on with it. The two words that are key in this little review are “smart” and “knowing”. Watching a lot of horror films, it is very easy to see the “set-ups”, like when someone is going to be standing behind a door once its closed, or something about to come flying through a window when the main character is off to the side of the screen with the window in most of the shot. You start to look for something particular to happen when those shots show up. But that is the real beauty to what West has done here. He sets you up for those but is too smart to play into those tropes. He really does keep you guessing. Same goes with the storyline. You go into thinking one thing, because it’s the obviously way to go, but once again takes you down a different path.
Taking place in 1979, a group of filmmakers head to a remote farm in Texas to film a porno. Of course, the director is looking to make this “dirty film look good”, giving it some class and art. Granted, the rest of the cast just want to make everyone famous and make a lot of money. The old farmhouse they rented to film the movie is just across the yard from the very old couple who owns it, who has no idea just what these young folk were planning to do while staying there.
At first, we’re not sure what exactly is the “dark secret” they are going to run into, as we’d expect in most films. However, West makes the storyline very believable, and even very sad at times, giving some real characterization to the old couple, Howard and Pearl. That night, the old woman wanders out of her house and sees what these kids are doing on their property, which brings back feelings that she misses. Her husband Howard, played by Stephen Ure, goes looking for her, telling his guests that his wife gets confused and might get hurt wandering around, asking for help to find her. But we feel there may be more he’s not letting on.
The real beauty of this story is that West didn’t make this old couple the kind of twisted, backwoods inbreeds that we’d come to expect from these types of films. It shows them as real people, with real emotions and back stories, that keeps them from being over-the-top and cartoonish or like they just came off the set of Wrong Turn 27. I feel that this is one of the reasons this film works so well and is “smart” like King said in his tweet.
Major kudos to Mia Goth, who plays not only Maxine, the one destined to make herself famous, but also as the old woman, Pearl. Now, since this is clearly listed on IMDB, I’m assuming it isn’t a spoiler to anyone, especially since it has been playing in the theaters for a while. But she does an amazing job with both roles and give her a lot of credit having to be in a full body makeup for a few sequences. While she does a good job as Maxine, Goth really brings the character of Pearl to life, showing her weaknesses, the sadness of becoming old and not being looked upon like she had been when she was younger.
Owen Campbell, the filmmaker with his eyes set on making a classy porno, also shows the condescending side of some filmmakers, where it is okay to cross some lines, but not when it comes to his own personal life. While watching this, I thought he was the same actor who was in the 2013 Evil Dead remake (which was actually Lou Taylor Pucci) because he looked so familiar. But it turns out it was from My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (2020) that made me recognize him from something. Nonetheless, Campbell was one of my favorite characters here showing the real film geek . . . to a certain point.
Brittany Snow, who looks a lot like Reese Witherspoon, plays the wannabee starlet perfectly, knowing to use what gifts the lord has given her, which gives then her character of Bobby-Lynn such charm and honesty. While Martin Henderson plays the one behind the whole film project, who just like his young stars, wants to make it out of the smalltown life that his cards had dealt him. He has big plans and isn’t going to stop until he makes them happen.
Between Henderson and Kid Cudi, playing Jackson, the stud in the porno, that is where most of the humor comes from, but not in the form of jokes, but situational, which really makes it funnier.
This is West’s first feature film since 2016, and his first horror film since The Sacrament (2013). I really enjoyed House of the Devil (2009) and The Innkeepers (2011), and even thought his debut picture, The Roost (2005) was okay. But I wouldn’t say I’ve ever loved any of his films. House and Innkeepers were pretty good, but nothing amazing. X, on the other hand, is amazing. There are some incredible shots throughout the running time, some with some homages to films like the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), but they don’t become so obvious that it breaks you away from the story. He sets up some of the sequences with a ton of tension, not letting the viewer off his hook, until he wants you. Other times, blasts you out of your seats without a clue it was going to happen. The film is funny, but not a comedy, laced with plenty of suspenseful moments, as well as creepy, scary, and definitely gory.
Also, make sure you stay to see what is after the credits.