A24’s 70s slasher X is pure horny chaos
Starring Mia Goth, Kid Cudi and newly-minted scream queen Jenna Ortega, the Texas porn horror is a movie you won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
Courtesy of A24
Early on in Ti West’s X, Maxine (Mia Goth) — the movie’s coke-powered porn star protagonist — decides to go for a nature swim. Her fiancée, himbo cowboy Wayne (Martin Henderson) is leading the production of her star vehicle, a country-vixen adult film shot in rural Texas. The remote farmhouse he’s selected for the set is owned by an extremely elderly couple, Howard and Pearl, who seem nice enough despite the giant rifle they keep by the door and the televangelist sermon playing on their TV 24/7.
They don’t know that Wayne and Maxine — along with industry veterans Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Kid Cudi), and film students RJ (Owen Campbell) and Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) — are making a dirty movie right under their noses. Yet. The cast and crew are equally unaware of the bloodthirsty alligator that resides in their pond, and the many other horrors that await them. For now.
What ensues is primarily comedy — fun, very bloody, and knowingly self-referential. The porno, straightforwardly titled The Farmer’s Daughters, is commented on throughout in such a way that forces comparison with X itself. For instance, RJ’s starry-eyed approach to filming the project prompts a less-convinced Lorraine to question his true motivations in taking part. “Because it is possible to make a good dirty movie!” he exclaims, indignant in his college-age pursuit of artistry. In another scene, Brittany Snow’s effervescent Bobby-Lynne refers to the film as “a foxy car wreck.” The taglines write themselves.
For dedicated horror fans, West lays a tasty trail of genre film breadcrumbs, with visual allusions to Psycho (1960), Alligator (1980) and, of course, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) peppered throughout. As a formal experiment, the film has an especially playful flair, splicing in brutal smash-cuts and making terrifyingly effective use of negative space. Tyler Bates and Chelsea Wolfe are responsible for a haunting and inventive score, which interpolates cries of pleasure into a number of its tracks.
The 70s colour palette is also a delight: Maxine’s powder-blue eyelids, Bobby-Lynne’s bright blonde bob and maraschino cherry-red romper, the warm, grainy 16mm shots of the porno itself. But the “turducken of overplayed storytelling tropes”, as named by the AV Club’s review, doesn’t always work in the film’s favour. As the latest addition in what I think of as the “scary old people” pantheon of horror cinema (notable efforts include M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit and A24 classics Hereditary and Midsommar), X’s geriatric villains are its weakest link.
West gestures at wider existential themes in the movie but stops short of exploring or critiquing them meaningfully. Both roles are played by young actors in heavy prosthetics: Howard by Stephen Ure and Pearl by Mia Goth, the latter casting an attempt at cyclical profundity. At various points in X, Pearl warns Maxine that her good looks will fade just as hers did, and in turn her later life will take a similarly dark path. It’s an ostensibly feminist message (and other reviewers have said as much), the cultural obsession with youth is certainly a kind of evil. But since this fetishisation of youth drives Pearl, jealous and horny, to her violent ways, the film loops back around into making a demon of female sexuality. As David Crow writes for Den of Geek, the film’s final third “relies on shock value and gross out gags at the expense of withered makeup on Goth’s face and body,” which feels far more sad than scary, and doesn’t quite chime with its otherwise subversive ethos.
X has a lot of style going for it, though its substance is, at points, sorely confused or just simply lacking. Ultimately, the film feels much like a specific sort of sex that, if not especially pleasurable, is at least quite funny, and altogether very memorable.