Ti West's 'X' is a Tantric Terror Missing a Climax
We review the new retro slasher from the brain that brought ya 'The House of the Devil' and 'The Innkeepers'.
Is it possible to make a good dirty movie? The question is spoken early on in X, the new slasher from writer/director Ti West, and it reverberates throughout the remaining runtime. If the answer does come - I'm still pondering the thought - it seems to lean toward the negative.
X is slick with a know-it-all attitude, and it delivers on the basics of a passable kill fest, but the winks and nudges never push the film into the enlightened realm certain characters, and possibly the filmmaker, strive toward. When X fades to black, we're left with a lot of bodies but not much else. Which is frustrating because this film looks fabulous, and the actors deliver obsessively watchable performances.
Maxine (Mia Goth) is on a mission to get famous, and porno is her catapult. Her boyfriend Wayne (Martin Henderson) can sense the home video market on the horizon, and he wants to be there when it finally crests over into a fortune. RJ (Owen Campbell) is the auteur with the confidence to transfer French New Wave sensibilities beneath the sheets of smut. Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) is tired of operating his boom mic. And Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Scott Mescudi) simply love boning, and they know they look good doin' it.
Together, the crew pile into a van for their final Texas odyssey. They hope to shoot "The Farmer's Daughter" on the sly in a rented guesthouse on a dilapidated farm. They don't count on the elderly and equally horny owners, Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (Mia Goth playing double duty, caked in prosthetic makeup). While the young flesh smashes into each other, the old flesh watches from windows.
X is a tantric experience. We all know what's coming. The film opens with cops on the farm and bloody bodies awaiting transport. Everyone on screen is that bomb in the Touch of Evil trunk, and we're impatiently waiting for them to explode.
Ti West has the most fun when he's delaying the pleasures of the genre. His characters are ridiculous but never cloying. At no point are you eager to see anybody meet the axe. Each death represents varying degrees of a bit of a bummer. If you're like me, and you religiously re-watch the Friday the 13th series, you'll recognize the level of miracle he has pulled off with his script.
What doesn't quite gel is the conversation West is having around international cinema infecting the Hollywood standards circa 1979, which is actually about a decade too late. RJ's cinematic fantasies amount to little more than our mockery, and they don't align with the antagonistic threat supplied by Howard and Pearl. X's singular terror is geriatric centered, which ultimately roots the film in a childish point of view. Old people are gross and scary? Only to dimwits.
Once the porno cast and crew start getting eliminated, the movie rushes quickly to its conclusion, which is little more than an adding up of the corpses we already saw at the beginning. Along the script's fringes, we sense a much larger story in process, but X refuses to take us to the next narrative tier. This is just a slasher.
Another revelatory layer is peeled back in the film's final moments, but it's not enough to blow minds. However, hearing that West has already filmed a prequel centered on Pearl in her younger years does raise an eyebrow. There's enough style and chemistry between the performers to get me to buy back into an X-themed expanded universe. What West does with that film could cause revaluation with this one at a later date.
Quickie Review: X is a texturally pleasurable slasher that never arrives at its grand delusions. The performances are giddy and delightful, but the film's substance borders on the sophomoric. 7/10