Early on in Ti West’s X, Mia Goth’s Maxine states that she hates blood and guts while holding down her lunch. If any of that claim resonates with you even remotely, this one isn’t for you by design. With this film, West revels in the low brow 70’s style use of blood, violence, and of course, a whole lot of guts. Fully inspired by the Satanic panic of the 70’s, from the brilliant opening shot it is made clear that West didn’t come to play with his loving homage to a style that hasn’t just been forgotten in film, but rather one that has been shunned. While the notion of life imitating art is obviously one that’s been proven through time, this same idea scared many. It horrified to the point of hiding from anything that may influence the youth chomping at the bit for the taboo. To this extent, a film like X and those it was influenced by would cause some to cover their eyes in a mix of disgust and fear. Yet all this film asks is, “Why all the fuss?”
It is even asked quite literally at one point in the most, if not only, dialogue heavy portion of the film. As Jenna Ortega’s Lorraine questions the very morality of this porno crew X follows, it’s quickly shut down and the truth is basically yelled at the screen. In a way, it’s not too far off from the way we see a pastor shun sex, lust, and just about any other activity that may be present in the film. And the answer is rather simple: it has nothing to do with morals, nor has it ever. As crucial as critical thinking is for art, especially film, sometimes all that’s needed is some good old-fashioned fun; And in this department, X is an absolute blast from start to finish. Yes, West could have easily made an empty slasher paying homage to an era of film that has been buried. Instead, West provides plenty to chew on with his own slew of thoughts. A commentary both on the history and current landscape of film, as well as an inspection on those who rose up in arms against films of this nature.
Furthermore, West is even able to craft a deeply effective set of antagonists in a beautiful way. Moments of pure horror and bloodshed are set to classic music bringing a somber tone to it all. We see Pearl, also played by Goth, sensually attack those around her and dance away from their corpses. Stephen Ure’s Howard uses the helplessness of old age to his advantage against his victims. Somehow, X can even be described as a tender film. Nothing is more evil than getting left behind by the cold hands of time. Even the villains in this film are shown to have moments of despair due to the unfair reality of it all. Whether young or old, we all end up in the same place one way or another. And when some meet with an untimely demise, West at least gives us the gnarliness we come to see at the movies. The audience is safe from the maniacs who live on this property, but slowly yet surely, the real horror is time itself. And that type of loss it brings will stay with us long after this film is out of theaters. Luckily, with a film like X and the planned (and completely shot in secret!) prequel, West is here to bring some much-needed food for thought along the way. And with a splash of horror and sex as the cherry on top, there’s worse ways to spend some of that finite time we’re all given.
X is currently playing in theaters.