X Is a Triumphant Return to Horror for Ti West

Photo provided by A24

I’m a huge fan of Ti West. I really like The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, and The Sacrament, so when I heard he was directing a new horror movie called X, I knew I had to check it out. I couldn’t wait to see one of my favorite genre filmmakers back at what he does best, and while I had a few issues with the film, I’m happy to say that on the whole, I was not disappointed.

Written, directed, and produced by Ti West, X stars Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, and Scott Mescudi. It’s set in Texas in 1979 and is about a group of amateur filmmakers who go to a secluded farmhouse to shoot an adult film. At first, everything seems to be going great, but as the night wears on, the elderly couple who own the place turn the group’s visit into a deadly nightmare.

As we’ve come to expect from Ti West, X is a very slow burn. The horror doesn’t really kick into gear until about an hour into the movie, so if you’re looking for chills and thrills every few minutes, this is not the film for you. But if slow burns are your thing, there’s a lot to like here.

For starters, the characters are all pretty likable, but I mean that in a very specific sense. They’re not great people and some of them feel more like caricatures than real human beings. I’m not even sure I would ever want to hang out with this group, so when I say they’re likable characters, I don’t mean they’re likable people.

Rather, I simply mean that despite all that, they’re still pretty fun to watch. There’s just something magnetic about this entire ensemble, so they do an excellent job of carrying the story both before and after the scares start to come.

A young woman screaming in terror behind a broken door

On top of that, there are also a few creepy scenes to hold us over until the main course. While we don’t get anything overtly horrific in this part of the film, X gives us just enough to remind us that it’s a horror movie, and it works really well. These early scares are tame enough that they don’t feel like too much too soon but they’re still eerie enough that they’ll send a slight chill down your spine.

Last but not least, there’s the sexuality. I have to be honest, I was a bit worried about this element of the film. Since X is about a group of people making a porno, I was afraid it might use that plot as an excuse to objectify its actors (mainly the women), but it actually does a pretty decent job of avoiding that pitfall.

While there are a couple of things that I thought were unnecessary, on the whole, I have to say the movie makes its sex and nudity feel like an organic part of the story rather than just an exercise in the male gaze. Granted, this is probably not something you’re going to want to show to young kids, but for mature adults, it handles its subject matter about as well as I could’ve expected.

That’s basically the first 60 minutes of X, and then once that hour mark hits, the horror comes to the fore in a big way. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure that an elderly couple in seemingly poor health could work as believable slasher villains, but let me assure you, that fear was entirely unfounded. Ti West sets up their kills in ways that make perfect sense, so I really enjoyed seeing them pick off their unsuspecting victims one by one.

Sometimes the kills catch you by surprise, and other times you can see them coming from a mile away, but however they happen, West does an amazing job of making them as impactful as possible. They’re brutal and gory, and when you know a character is going to die, the tension right before the killing blow is just about unbearable. On the flip side, when the kills come out of nowhere, they’re the kind of really effective jump scares that most studio horror movies only wish they had, and they just might take your breath away.

The villain going in for the kill

Next, let’s talk a bit about the message of X. I know that a slasher film about a group of people making a porno doesn’t sound like fertile ground for deep themes, but there’s actually a lot more to this movie than just blood and sex. At its core, it’s essentially a meditation on aging and what it means to lose the things we enjoyed in our youth and it simply uses sex to represent all that.

In fact, I don’t even think the film has much to say about sex at all. Sure, it’s part of the movie’s overall message, but beyond that, I’d say X is actually a bit ambivalent about it. On the surface, the film seems pretty positive about any and all sex as long as it’s consensual, but I think a closer examination shows that this is simply the viewpoint of the main characters, not of the movie itself. Plus, there’s a key scene where one of them backtracks on that stance, so at the end of the day, I don’t think the film is really concerned with taking a definitive position either way. It simply uses sex as a medium to convey its real message, and that message is much deeper and much more poignant than a simple all-or-nothing take on sex could ever be.

All that being said, I do have to acknowledge that X isn’t a perfect movie. There are a few things I could nitpick here and there, but my one big criticism involves its depiction of Christianity. The film seems to equate the entire Christian faith with the kind of simplistic, hypocritical theology and practice you get from most televangelists and it doesn’t even hint that there might be more to Christianity than that one narrow segment. It’s basically like equating all Mexican food with Taco Bell, so as a Christian myself, I found that element of the movie really unsatisfying.

But to be fair, that’s not a huge part of the film, so on the whole, the good in it definitely outweighs the bad. It has likable characters, some excellent horror, and a surprisingly poignant message. So if slow burns are your thing, definitely check out X. I think you’re really going to like it.

X is playing in theaters right now.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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