The Friendly Film Fan reviews A24's latest horror feature from returning director Ti West.
Over the weekend, a new horror film from indie powerhouse A24 released, entitled “X” (yes, that’s the whole title). This comeback of director Ti West is a 70s-set picture about a group of young people setting out to make what it is referred to in the film as “a good dirty movie” – porn and prestige filmmaking all in one place. It stars the likes of Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Martin Henderson, and Owen Campbell. As the group arrives to a distant farmhouse, they are shown the boarding house where they’ll be allowed to stay. But something strange is going on with the land’s owner and his wife, and it will be up to this band of merry misfits to either determine what’s happening…or to survive it.
In as few words as I can put it, X is a good movie, to a fault. It takes some big swings, and mostly makes those into hits by being as bold and brash with its material as it could possibly be. The ride only gets wilder the longer it goes on – but don’t expect that wildness to hold all the way to the end. There’s a lot that works here, but there’s often almost as much that works against it, though to explain why may give away the game in some capacity. I’m not sure it’s even entirely possible to review it in any certain terms without spoiling it, but being that it did just release, I will do my best on that front. The truth is that the film is noticeably style over substance, although one doesn’t pick up on that right away. The allusions to old horror classics like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre are obvious, but the film itself pretty much leaves them at that – allusions. The rest of it is filled with a lot of aggrandizing filmmaking – though one can tell director West is not aggrandizing himself; rather, he is aggrandizing the horror films of the 70s and 80s through his directorial style. That sweaty, summer-toned, sexy look is all over every scene of X, regardless of whether what we’re show is the film itself or the movie being made within it. In all this aggrandizing, however, whatever substance the movie has is pushed further downwards; it’s definitely still there, but it’s very much not at the forefront of the story here.
Is there a story here? There’s certainly a narrative: characters interact with each other and the world around them, things happen to them, they happen to things, there’s a clear beginning, middle, and end. But what is the movie trying to say exactly? That it is, in fact, possible to make a good dirty movie? Perhaps, and if that is indeed the point, consider X a success in that regard, but I won’t pretend to have loved it where I mostly just really enjoyed it, and part of that lack of infatuation with it does come down to the fact that the message of it doesn’t seem to be any deeper than “this is a slasher like the old ones you knew, and it doesn’t need to be anything else.” Many may call that simple or unpretentious, but for myself, I was still left wanting a little more.
However, that’s not to say that X doesn’t give us plenty of scenery to chew on. Its sexually-charged, hyper-stylized first half is a real treat to see, every performance toing the line between unhinged and charismatic – subtle or otherwise – and each scene laying down small but notable groundwork for how the rest of it is going to play out. Unfortunately, that incredibly singular first half with all its unexpected direction and character turnings eventually gives way to a second half that is essentially all horror with very little in the way of flourish. Once this thing morphs into a straight-up slasher (though with a noticeable wrinkle in that subgenre), all that sexy 70s-style pizzaz turns off like a light switch, as if a second movie has entered the fray; a good movie, to be sure, but one that feels a little bit at odds with what preceded it, stylistically at least. One part Texas Chainsaw meets The Nice Guys, and the next minute, a Halloween movie with an alternate Michael Myers.
And that’s really where the main problems lie. Despite all the good will it builds within the horror genre, and regardless of how many times Brittany Snow or Scott Mescudi end up stealing the whole show, that show never really gets around to defining what it really wants to be or be about. The words of the Sheriff at the end of the film (the main story takes place between a prologue and epilogue) ring in the audience’s ears: “one goddamn fucked up horror picture.” But is that really all X wants to be in the end? Perhaps, and perhaps that’s a fair shake, given how thoroughly A24 has been both largely praised and widely blamed for the rise of “elevated horror.” But just because a movie works on its own terms doesn’t mean that it couldn’t work on better ones.
Regardless of all the complaints I’ve made and issues I’ve attempted to address, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself watching X. Sure, it may be style over substance, but boy oh boy, that style sure is infectious. Maybe this is the move A24 needed to make in order to be done with “elevated” horror and simply produce something that doesn’t have to think about deeper meanings or the next way grief can be explored in some witch ceremony or ancient demon book. Maybe a straight-up slasher was the right move for a studio so associated with one kind of horror to make, and whether you love the idea of “elevated” horror or not will likely have a lot to do with how you view Ti West’s return to the silver screen. All that said, this one is still worth checking out, and it’s definitely the most fun, stylish piece of media in theaters right now that doesn’t feature a man beating up thugs in a batsuit.
I’m giving “X” a 7.9/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.