[SXSW Review] X
Courtesy A24

Most are familiar with the three rules of horror: don’t have sex, don’t do drugs, and never say you’ll be right back. Slasher movies have shown us time and time again that ignoring those rules can come with hefty consequences. In writer-director Ti West’s new film, X, West combines the thrill of a slasher flick with the exploration of pornographic stereotypes while also forcing the audience to confront their own mortality.

In X, it’s the late 70s and a group of young filmmakers head out to rural Texas in hopes of shooting an auteur adult film titled, “The Farmer’s Daughter.” After arriving at their destination, and meeting their elderly, reclusive hosts, the friends head to their rented cabin to begin filming. However, soon after, strange occurrences begin to take shape and as truths are revealed, the friends find themselves fighting for their lives.

It’s been 6 years since we last saw a Ti West film. With his return to horror, he’s delivered one hell of a wallop in X. From the moment we met this eclectic group of characters outside a run-of-the-mill strip joint, to the final frame of the film, I was glued to my chair. I found myself instantly keyed into the characters, their experience, and the naivety that this porno could lead to Hollywood stardom; it’s charming in its own special way. Like West’s other films, he has us wait before allowing the real action to begin. He slowly and masterfully builds tension like a pot of water that’s simmering before boiling over.

Setting a film about friends making a porno in rural Texas in the 70s where Christian ideology is shoved down people’s throats and those with “ungodly” sexual inclinations/preferences are shunned allows for an intriguing dichotomy to take shape. Combine that with themes such as the fear of getting old, the benefits of youth, and the loss of intimacy, there’s a lot to discuss and take away from this film if you are so inclined. But as a slasher? It more than delivers. As cliche-sounding as it is, West breathes new life into the slasher genre with a unique approach to its killer.

Mia Goth in X l Courtesy A24

Leading the cast is Mia Goth who plays the dual role of Maxine, one of the stars of “The Farmer’s Daughter,” who is also in a relationship with Wayne (Martin Henderson), the producer of the film, and Pearl, the shut-away elderly woman who wants nothing more than to feel alive again. Plastered in prosthetics and makeup, Goth is unrecognizable as Pearl. The film really rests on Goth’s shoulders and she does a brilliant job of bringing out the complex emotions and fears each of these characters has. Goth has always had an odd eccentricity to her which lends itself tremendously to each of her roles.

As for the main star of “The Farmer’s Daughter,” we turn to Bobby-Lynn and Jackson Hole, played by Brittany Snow and Scott Mescudi (Kid Cudi), respectively. Bobby-Lynn, specifically, is the sexy comic relief, helping to relieve the tension (no pun intended) with little sexual quips and cute smiles. Snow is no stranger to the slasher sub-genre having been in 2008’s Prom Night and 2012’s Would You Rather, so adding that to the mix with Snow’s bubbly and welcoming personality made her an easy sell for the role of Bobby-Lynn. As Bobby-Lynn’s scene partner, Mescudi had no problems sliding into the role (wink wink). Having been a fan of his music for years, it’s been great to see him transition more into acting outside of bit roles.

Rounding out the rest of the cast is Jenna Ortega as Lorraine Day. The up-and-coming actress is able to capture the innocence and nativity of the situation at hand, even after she decides to push herself past her comfort zone. Personally, Ortega has one of the best scenes of the movie. Playing opposite is her filmmaking boyfriend, RJ Nichols (Owen Campbell), who finds himself battling his own judgments when Lorraine becomes interested in exploring her own sexuality. Lastly, Stephen Ure plays Howard, the old man renting out the cabin. He exudes hatred and disapproval from the minute he encounters his guests. Ure does a great job building his character up to a point where the audience naturally questions his intentions.

Everything looks and feels like the 70s from the style of filmmaking to the clothing to even the design of the cabin. Everything feels true to the time period. The kills are epic and brutal. The creeping sense of dread never dissipates until the final blow. It’s a film that is uncomfortable and violent but one that also shines a light on the scariness of getting old and how easily sex is shunned. Whether you have a deep appreciation for exploitation cinema or love for slashers, X will equally turn you on and have your heart pounding at every turn.

A24 will be releasing X nationwide this Friday in theaters.

Shannon McGrew
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