The whole “sex equals death” trope goes back to the very first Halloween movie, and was largely popularized by the slew of slashers released in the early 1980’s. In some poetic sense, it served as both a metaphor for very real and very tragic AIDS crisis of the time, while also existing as something of a cautionary tale about the dangers of unsafe sex.
Given this long standing tradition, it’s quite fitting to have a slasher that deals with a group of young people making a porno which then turns into a grisly murder scene. While many have been quick to describe Ti West’s new film X as Boogie Nights meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
X could have easily been just a fun, sex-filled romp with gory kills, but much like one character says in the film itself, “it’s possible to make a good dirty movie”, and that’s very much what Ti West does…
Begging Forgiveness Rather Than Asking Permission
Set in the New Zealand corner of Texas, X opens in 1979 as an indie film crew travels out to a rural farmhouse to shoot an adult movie. For executive producer and financier Wayne (Martin Henderson) this film is about making money and getting out of the topless car wash business. Likewise his fiancee Maxine (Mia Goth) and stars Jackson (Kid Cudi) and Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) are hoping to attain fame and Hollywood success.
The film within a film’s writer/director RJ (Owen Campbell) fancies himself an auteur and believes that shooting a porno as arthouse cinema will elevate the movie to a status never seen before. And his quiet, timid girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) is along for the ride, helping with the crew, and feels very much out of place.
Upon arrival at the farmhouse, they meet a strange elderly couple who owns the property, and the cast/crew discovers that Wayne withheld the fact that they’re shooting porn here. The whole first consists of them shooting their “smut”, and the film itself has a very sarcastic sense of humor in its approach to it. Granted, some of it is shot to be titillating, but the movie acknowledges how ridiculous it is, all while slowly building tension and dread in the background.
Later that night, more tensions arise within the group as Lorraine decides that she wants to do a scene in the movie. Her boyfriend RJ is very much against this, and his hypocrisy is on full display as he fumbles to explain why it was okay for Wayne to watch his significant other have sex with Jackson on camera, but not okay for RJ’s girlfriend to do it.
Everybody’s Doing It (Minor Spoilers)
All while the group of young people are having sex on camera, the elderly woman spies on them from the window, becoming increasingly jealous and resentful. While she is (seemingly) happily married, her husband has not been able to “satisfy” her in many years due to a heart condition. She just wants to feel beautiful and desired, not unlike Lorraine when she decided she wanted to do a scene.
In her anger and resentment, she takes this movie from a dark comedy about the adult industry into a brutal and gory slasher that will satisfy the most sadistic of horror fans. With a few suspensions of disbelief, mainly that these young people could easily overpower her, she figures out creative and unique ways to kill them that result in some cringe-inducing scenes (in a good way).
Because she is old and frail, she has to mostly rely on catching by surprise. The resulting kills come out of nowhere, but never feel like cheap jump scares. The frights in the second half of the movie are very much earned, and do all they can to subvert expectations. The gore is plenty, and the violence creative.
Much like the character of RJ, Ti West takes an arthouse approach to X itself. But he still knows what slasher fans want to see and does not disappoint. Without getting too much into spoilers, the movie toys with your expectations, and flips them on their head.
Living Life to the Fullest
At its core however, X is about so much more than just sex, porn, murder, and death. There’s a real heartbreaking story about a woman who feels worthless due to her advanced age and society’s obsession with placing a woman’s value in her looks.
Aging is one thing that none of us can escape from, and it’s a reminder for us to live our lives. In the backdrop of their whole production is the idea that the film they’re making is at the very least sleazy. But X smartly avoids condemning them for what they’re doing, nor does it outright condemn not wanting to.
Lorraine is the perfect example of someone who was intrigued by it, but ultimately regrets filming her scene, and it goes to show that it’s definitely not for everyone. The bottom line the film conveys is about living your life freely and how you wish so that you don’t have the same regrets the murderous elderly woman has.
Compared to his previous work, X continues a trend of Ti West movies that completely submerges itself in the time period it’s set in. While it doesn’t fool anyone into thinking it was actually made in 1979 (like he did in House of the Devil), it relishes in the time period, without getting too nostalgic with rose-colored glasses.
Making a gory slasher with lots of nudity and blood is easy, but making one with interesting characters, a compelling plot, and overarching themes than make you think is more of a noble challenge. And it’s something that Ti West and his new film pull off very well!
What did you think of X? What are some of your favorite vintage slasher films? Let us know in the comments!
If you believe that horror movies are good for your mental health, check out the upcoming documentary Horror and Mental Health! You can pledge to their Indiegogo campaign and be part of it by clicking here!