Director: Ti West
Starring: Mia Goth, Jenny Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, Scott Mescudi
Run Time: 106 mins
X is the new film from director Ti West, who returns to his horror roots after a brief venture to the Western with the giddily entertaining In A Valley Of Violence. West’s horror films have been hit-and-miss – I liked aspects of The House of the Devil and while The Innkeepers had an original concept, it just tonally didn’t work for me. That said, you can’t deny he always has a vision and for that reason, West is an exciting director.
X takes place in 1979 and follows a cast and crew of a pornographic film who choose to shoot on an unsuspecting elderly couple’s rural Texas property. The group is comprised of aspiring actress Maxine Minx (Mia Goth), her producer boyfriend Wayne (Martin Henderson) , actors Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi), the director RJ (Owen Campbell) and his girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega).
Immediately on arrival, one of the proprietor’s, Howard (Stephen Ure), is temperamental towards the group and things seem off. What follows is a cacophony of gleeful violence intertwined with sexual awakenings and discovery.
X is a thoroughly entertaining horror that is elevated by its cineliteracy towards 20th-century slasher films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as well as its satisfying exploration of a range of themes. It is most effective in its first half as the build-up is at a constant simmer. The film heads off the rails in its second half in a mostly satisfying way, albeit with some silliness as it leans into the genre tropes of that era.
Mia Goth has impressed in horror films with A Cure For Wellness and Suspiria and makes her mark here again. She brings a down-and-dirty edge into the role of Maxine and she quite literally disappears into her second role under heavy prosthetics as Pearl, the wife of Howard. The rest of the cast are all game too, with Jenny Ortega receiving a meaningful arc and Stephen Ure proving what an underrated actor he is, channeling the nastiness from his most famous portrayal of an Orc in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
The score by Tyler Bates and Chelsea Wolfe is haunting using period pieces as well as an original predominantly synth-based score. Chelsea Wolfe’s rendition of Oui Oui Marie is particularly mesmerising. The film is also beautifully shot by Eliot Rockett. He frames the characters as if they are prey, an aerial shot of an alligator stalking its target and an eagle encircling the air above the film crew are of particular note.
X is quite easily Ti West’s best horror film and is a great example of how to flirt with the past and deliver an original concept. In A Valley Of Violence remains his best film overall but this is a thoroughly entertaining piece that wears its inspirations on its sleeve and has depth.
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