Sex and Violence Movie Review Part 2 - X
Let me share the only time I spoke during the film:
“Don’t go Fulci…Don’t go Fulci…aww shit. You went Fulci.”
Now, you veterans of the Mutant Fam are going to know what that means right off the bat, but for others, let me just say eyeballs are not safe in this film. Well, okay, as a slasher nobody’s safe in X, but we’ll get to that. Let’s look at the plot first:
Three couples are on their way out to a guest house on a Texas farm well outside of Houston to shoot an adult film, each one of them hoping to make the big time. The farm itself is under the stewardship of elderly farmer Howard and his wife Pearl…and Pearl likes to wander. Once she discovers what’s happening on her farm, something deep inside is stirred…something dark. And this isn’t the first time. But will it be the last?
To call Ti West’s ‘X’ a slasher is…well…accurate. But it also is a bit of an understatement. There’s an old saying “Good artists copy while great artists steal,” and in a lot of ways, that’s what we have here. Aside from my initial allusion to a type of kill that’s notable in a good many Lucio Fulci films also steals from Hitchcock and Tobe Hooper to create not just a run of the mill slasher, but a top notch one that’s certainly worth your attention. West, like Hooper before him, manages to create an atmosphere of dread not so much in the opening of the film, but as our characters make their way to their rural destination…that’s when the unease kicks in. At first, the viewer may not even realize that it’s happening but between the roadkill cow (and associated over the top gore there) and the long, silent shots leading up to and upon their arrival at the farm, the tension slowly increases before reaching a bit of a climax during the initial meeting of Howard and Wayne, the executive producer/strip-joint owner and boyfriend to Mia Goth’s Maxine. As we get deeper into the movie, while there aren’t any direct homages to Texas Chainsaw Massacre here, there are several scenes that create a disturbing and utterly unclean feeling so as to make the viewers skin crawl even for moments where there is no grizzly kill or gore effects to be scene. As mentioned, we have our call outs to good ol’ Hitch as well, particularly Psycho that not only gets name-dropped but also…well…that would be telling. I’ll simply say that if you’ve seen that classic film before, there’s one scene here that clues you in to the history of the farm…if you know, you know.
Much like the previous film we reviewed, Porno, yes, there’s an evangelical Christian aspect running throughout the film, albeit in a much different way. Throughout the film we’re treated to a TV Pastor lecturing on sin and the limited patience of God…amongst other things…and it serves as both an interesting juxtaposition of the two sides here, killers and victims, but also laying some surprise groundwork for one of the characters. Both like and unlike Porno, we see here also that our characters are more complicated that what Howard and Pearl make them out to be. While yes, they’re certainly pornographers and whatnot, most of them are genuinely likeable. Except for RJ and Lorianne, played by Owen Campbell and Jenna Ortega respectively. I was happy to see them dispatched. Yeah, Wayne’s a little sleazy but he’s not necessarily a bad guy, especially when he tries to talk RJ down in one particular scene. Kid Cudi’s Jackson is a Long Dong Silver stand in, but also a ‘Nam vet with hints of PTSD and willing to help out with the skills he acquired in his tour of duty. Bobby-Lynne isn’t exactly a stripper with a heart of gold in the sense of the classic Hollywood trope, but had aspirations of being a nurse at some point in her life and on occasion still displays that level of care for other people. However, unlike Porno, yeah, there’s no naivete here. Oh…and the body count is significantly higher. And then there’s Maxine…
Yeah, see, Mia Goth gets her own paragraph as the standout performer here, playing both roles of Pearl and Maxine…which as the plot unfolds kinda makes sense. As Maxine, she has the perfect look of a 70s adult performer. Again invoking Chainsaw, as the film progresses, it’s difficult not to draw parallels between her and Marilyn Burns’ performance as Sally. Sure, lots of screaming, lots of shocked looks but also a toughness to fight back…all of which feeling natural given that really, the most we see of Maxine’s personality is unbridled ambition. On the flip side, we have Pearl whom Goth infuses with a creepiness to be sure, but also a lingering sense of pity. We feel bad that Pearl is so old and unable to do either things that she used to or goals she wanted to achieve. Obviously, the make-up that Mia had to endure in order to convey her performance in this role is a feat, given what every actor will tell you about acting under layers and layers of make-up…and there are a couple of times where the make-up does fail her…but overall, the dual turn is carried off generally well. If I had one criticism it’s that in the scenes where the two characters are together, it’s kind of obvious that it’s the same actor…not so much a failing of the make-up mind you, but a failure of the staging and direction. We find shots here that echo shots of so many other films where an actor is forced to play two roles. But is it a failure? Sure, I wasn’t necessarily fond of it, but is this another example of West stealing from influential films? Certainly possible.
Speaking of make-up and effects, as I said earlier, the roadkill cow at the beginning of the film is pretty much the film’s statement of intent: this is gonna get gross and the effects team isn’t going to be fooling around. And by the time you reach the Fulci moment from the beginning of this review, you’re going to be very, VERY aware of that fact. Each kill is visceral…I think Lorianne’s death ended up being my favorite, not only because I didn’t like the character, but there’s some pretty decent effects there when her face gets blown off. Ah…it just hit me…there’s also an alligator kill…perhaps a tip of the hat to Hooper’s Chainsaw follow-up, the gator themed Eaten Alive? Either way, it’s an impressive scene as well, quick but definitely unflinching.
If I haven’t sold you on it already, let me be clear, ‘X’ is a top notch entry into the slasher genre. There’s nothing mystical here, nothing supernatural, just rural folk killin’ city slickers. And if you have seen both Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then West’s inspirations will be very clear. He does manage to pull off a really good balance here though, you think of those classic films while his own film progresses, but at no point do you compare them to one another. At no point do you think ‘ugh, Chainsaw did this better’ or ‘tsk tsk, where’s good ol’ Hitch when you need him’. The film succeeds in evoking these films and as such using that as a method of drawing you in to what you’re currently watching. In a lesser film, audiences would be wistful for the classics, but here, it only helps you savor the proceedings more. ‘X’ is sooooo close to a Hypno-Cat rating, but some of the Pearl make-ups and effects keep this one just shy of perfection. Still, Ti West’s film certainly achieves greatness and is well worth a look from any slasher fan. Definitely a high-end Happy Cat here!