Seasoned horror movie director Ti West’s X was a perfect showcase of new age slasher and horror as it explores themes of sexual expression when a group of young filmmakers set out to shoot a porn film in the Texas bible-belt during the late 1970’s. X follows the young exotic dancer Maxine (Mia Goth) as she and her older boyfriend Wayne (Martin Henderson), along with the animated Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi) as they enlist the help of student filmmaker RJ (Owen Campbell) and his timid girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) to help them film a porn; in hopes of launching them into adult film stardom.
Our first introduction to the characters is in the dressing room of a strip club, as Maxine is looking in the mirror with her 70’s curls. A figure reminiscent of Matthew McConaughey’s character in the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ saunters into the room, fixed with a cowboy hat and a McConaughey drawl that makes every mother swoon. They collect the overly affectionate Jackson and Bobby-Lynne, as they set off with the film students to a ranch in the deep south of Texas to shoot their project. It’s clear from the get-go that the free/love hippy movement of the 70’s in the US was greatly looked down upon by this community, it sets an uneasy feeling for viewers as even film student Lorraine is unsure about shooting the film and is only taking part because of her boyfriend.
As the plot continues, it shows the elderly couple that own the ranch heinously murder the whole group, bar Maxine, in what would appear to be in an act of love and jealousy as the old woman envies the youth of the group. Jealous of their ability to freely express their sexuality, she feels hers has not only been repressed her whole life, but is now completely non-existent in her old age. This theme of sexuality explored by West was extremely impactful, as he has the viewer actually sympathising with the killers as their sexual expression has been a taboo for their whole life, this group is the one to show that the times are changing and that everybody has sex, some are just more open about it.
However, jealously got the best of the couple and they pick off the group one by one in varying means, from pushing Bobby-Lynne into alligator infested waters to sticking a pitchfork into Wayne’s eyes. This prompts Maxine to join the long list of the iconic “final girls” in horror movies, that notably include Sidney Prescott in Scream and Laurie Strode in Halloween. Maxine was the perfect “final girl” for any horror movie, because instead of relying on the old fashioned pure-hearted good girl that survives until the end. West subverts expectations by instead of choosing the obvious “church mouse” as Wayne so aptly called Lorraine, and who I naively thought was going to be the “final girl,” he chooses the hardened, young, coke using, porn star to be the last to survive. It was great to watch how this Hollywood stereotype of gorgeous girls with no depth, being the main character and the only one deserving enough to live till the end, being phased out.
The all-round stellar acting performances in this film were nothing short of spectacular, but the girls were really able to steal the show with this one. Mia Goth ,was able to possess a quality on screen that was so mesmerising, it was very clear how committed she was to her character. Brittany Snow was undoubtedly my favourite performance in the film, because there is always a soft spot for the hilarious self-assured blonde who doesn’t care what others think about her, and looks good doing it. Lastly, Jenna Ortega, who is definitely rising up the ranks in Hollywood through her performances this year in The Fallout and Scream, is absolutely a name to watch out for and deserves all the recognition she gets with hopefully more to come.
Unlike nearly all mainstream horror films, this film doesn’t rely solely on shrilling audio build up in moments of anticipation for scares. Instead West made an interesting and unique editing choice of rapidly splicing clips from between the film and clips from a televangelist, which was shown at the beginning of the film as he screams about sinners and sex fiends to build anticipation for the audience which was incredibly effective. West was also able to have the audience on constant edge through visuals alone, as the wide shots were incredibly frequent, which forced viewers to search the wide plain for a potential horror lurking in the background. A favourite scene in the film was when the old lady Pearl, was repeatedly stabbing RJ and the red tint of the car’s headlight was shining on her face and you couldn’t tell what was light and what was the back splatter of blood on her face. This was a visually amazing scene, that seemed to give a nod to the old-age classic horror, it was also the point where you were able to see the thirst for murder spread across Pearl’s face as she keeps going for an uncomfortable amount of time, as the built-up for a need to be wanted and to relive her youth is unleashed then and there on the unfortunate RJ.
This is without a doubt my favourite film of the year so far, and has set a precedent for others to deliver. It also contained everything I crave for in a horror as West was successfully able to make a tasteful slasher that wasn’t overly gory, but was enjoyable from start to finish.
Written By Melissa Findlay