A24 has become notorious for its cutting edge takes on horror, and its newest film “X” is no exception.
I will warn you: this film is rated R for good reason and for more than just the violent deaths. So please do not sneak your younger siblings in unless you want to accidentally scar them mentally for the foreseeable future.
Directed by Ti West, who has directed horror fan-favorites like “The House of the Devil” (2009) and “V/H/S” (2012), “X” finds its cast in the middle of Texas with nothing but a van, a camera, an obnoxiously large boom mic and a dream to create a beautiful adult film.
Throughout the movie, we follow Maxine (Mia Goth), Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), Bobby-Lynn (Brittany Snow), Jackson (Kid Cudi), Wayne (Martin Henderson) and RJ (Owen Campbell) as they use a rented barn to shoot their film. The couple who owns the barn, Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (Goth in prosthetics), slowly catch onto what they’re up to inside.
The cast is stellar (with Goth slaying in every sense of the word). Each character is fleshed out just enough to have you rooting for survivors yet excited when someone bites the dust, and the concept is interesting enough to leave you wanting more.
As with any good story, our antagonists directly embody the anxieties of the protagonists. West artfully enforces this by paralleling the “film within a film” shots with what is happening with our cast in real-time, allowing the audience to begin to empathize with Howard and Pearl, if only for a few moments before chaos ensues.
Within this, we also get a deeper commentary on the relationship between the Church and a more modern view on sex and sexuality. The word “whore” is thrown at Maxine more times than I can count on both hands, but she has an equivalent grasp on religious teachings to the man preaching on the TV in Howard and Pearl’s home.
A strength of “X” is its freshness. Sure, there are a million horror movies out there set in the middle of nowhere in the ’70s, and sure, I’ve seen many where the camera lingers on a woman’s chest for a little too long (they are shooting an adult film so I’ll let this one slide) but none quite like this.
“X” does give a few tasteful nods to the classics like “The Shining,” “Alligator” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” but none of these stand out too much within the context of the film.
The gore isn’t too bad; it honestly surprised me how much I was able to keep my eyes open throughout the film. The diversity of means of death was refreshing, as the last time an alligator killed someone in a horror movie was probably the ’80s. And short of the elderly sex scene, there isn’t much that made me regret housing down all that popcorn.
The film currently has a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it seems A24 was already confident in the success of “X,” as if you stay until after the credits, you get a sneak peek of “Pearl,” a prequel to “X” set during World War I where Goth returns to the ranch, this time as Pearl.
I, for one, am extremely excited to see what West and Goth do with the film, and I recommend seeing “X” in theaters as soon as you can, just probably not with your parents.