Writer and director Ti West made his return to horror earlier this year with A24’s X, out now on Blu-ray, a stylish slasher that intimately touches on themes of aging and sexual frustration, while also celebrating porn’s place in the rise of independent film.
The movie is set in 1979, as a group of adult entertainers set out to make a porno called The Farmer’s Daughters at a rented boarding house owned by a an elderly couple in rural Texas. When the frail wife discovers exactly what the young guests are filming, blood soon begins to flow in a series of inventive kills.
It takes place over a 24-hour period, as bookended by the arrival of a sheriff at the scene to find the gruesome aftermath.
Written and directed by Ti West (The Roost, House of the Devil, Cabin Fever 2, The Innkeepers, The Sacrament), X stars Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness, Suspiria), Brittany Snow (Prom Night, Pitch Perfect), Jenna Ortega (Scream 2022, Wednesday), Martin Henderson (The Ring), Owen Campbell, and Grammy Award nominee Scott Mescudi (better known as Kid Cudi).
Snow has a blast with a role far removed from most of her more family friendly filmography, while Ortega effectively continues her rise to horror royalty with an outstanding performance as the director’s “church mouse” girlfriend who decides that she too wants to be in the film. But it’s Goth who really gets to shine, playing dual roles as both the star of the porno, Maxine, and the elderly wife, Pearl.
Maxine longs for stardom and has no problem riding the blossoming porn industry into more mainstream fame, while Pearl longs for the beauty of youth and her days of vitality, sexually and otherwise. The heart of X lies within the intersection of these obsessive desires, and it delivers the goods in both graphic gore and all the sex and nudity the subject matter suggests.
The film is a slasher in the sense that young and attractive, seemingly carefree people are killed one by one, but the stalker in question has a less genre-like, more shocking motive.
There is also some fun commentary on how the rise of the adult film industry and the simultaneous advent of the home video market in fact led to the dawn of a golden age of independent filmmaking. As the movie-within-a-movie’s director RJ (played by Campbell) says, “It’s possible to make a good dirty movie,” the same can be said about West making a good slasher flick.
As usual, West’s shots are slow and deliberate, and the composition is incomparable. Much of the film’s success lies in illustrating the isolation of the setting and capturing the grainy late 1970s aesthetic. There’s also laughs, and an alligator, and they’re not mutually exclusive.
When the blood begins to splatter, it kicks off with easily one of the best kills you’ll see on screen this year, introducing a new killer for the ages.
Some twisted reveals in the final act legitimately illuminate and deepen everything behind the preceding events, as it all comes home in a wildly satisfying climax.
Special features included on the Blu-ray release are unfortunately minimal, offering only a brief behind the scenes featurette called “That X Factor” and an extended version of “The Farmer’s Daughters” scenes (the “artistic” cinematic scenes, minus the X-rated stuff). There is also a time lapse video of Goth being effectively transformed into the aged Pearl with a bit of her own commentary on the process. Most disappointing, however, the much talked about Pearl prequel teaser the ran after the credits in theaters is inexplicably absent from the entire release, not found in the bonus contents nor after the credits.
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