We’re used to the virgin in slasher movies. It’s typically a she and she’s usually the one that survives. Ti West’s homage to that genre and other ones has a little demented fun with that character. There’s not a virgin to be found in X, but there’s one who loses her porn flick virginity.
A prologue clues us in that we’ll see a significant body count in what follows. Set in rural Texas circa 1979, a troupe of six travels to a farmhouse to shoot an adult film. The director RJ (Owen Campbell) fancies it to be a cut above the rest of them (they always do in these pics). His girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) is part of the skeleton crew who isn’t thrilled to be on the shoot. On the flip side, Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and her bf Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi) are proud to be starring in the feature titled The Farmer’s Daughters. Mia Goth is Maxine, coke addled and desperate to be a star. She’s dating Wayne (Martin Henderson), executive producer of the big show.
The aforementioned farmhouse is owned by elderly couple Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (played by Goth in heavy old age makeup). With a revivalist evangelical TV program playing on their set, we rightly assume they aren’t fully aware of what kind of shenanigans their guests are filming. A slow build leads us to discover plenty of secrets about the couple.
X is most obviously a sadistic love letter to 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre though it telegraphs other influences. It even mentions 1960’s Psycho and how it became a different picture at midpoint. The same can be said here as the one day shoot is completed before a violent night rolls along. Halloween and The Shining get their due as do the cheapie grindhouse and skin flicks of the era it’s set in.
Where X deviates a little from the formula is its occasional rumination on aging. Pearl, in particular, is reminded of what she’s lost in her elder state by the youngsters on her property. Her reaction won’t win her (or the script) any acclaim from the AARP. It does, however, give this a slightly unexpected and intriguing dimension.
My reaction was mixed overall. I found the lighting to be almost too dark at times. That said, there’s one scene in particular (you’ll know) where you’ll be glad it is. While X is well-made and sometimes clever, its biggest fault is a common one for more high minded horror titles. I didn’t find it overly frightening. Furthermore, for a sendup of a brand where the killings are often violently creative – that’s in surprisingly short supply. The most passionate genre disciples will surely sing X‘s praises. I found myself somewhat less devoted.
Set in 1979 and melding the genres of horror with adult filmmaking, Ti West’s X is slated for spots in over 2000 theaters this weekend. The slasher pic (which premiered at South by Southwest days ago) stars Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega (just coming off Scream), Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, and Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi).
Reviews are sharp with a current 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. That said, I do believe its box office potential is limited. Unlike most recent horror titles, it’s not a sequel/remake/prequel/requel. While A24 materials often receives acclaim, they can struggle at multiplexes.
Despite the hefty screen count, I’ll project this struggles to reach $3 million.
Emma is the latest adaptation of the 1815 Jane Austen novel and it’s out this weekend in limited release and posting solid numbers. This version stars Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role. She’s best known for her work in the horror genre with The Witch, Split, and Glass. Reviews are praising with a current 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The film marks the debut of director Autumn de Wilde and arrives at an awfully early frame for awards voters to remember it. One of the last renderings of the book was in 1996 with Gwyneth Paltrow starring. It opened in the summer of that year and nabbed Oscar nods for Costume Design and Score. The former category is certainly a possibility. However, like what came before nearly a quarter century ago, I am skeptical this Emma contends for top of the line races.
On the other hand, it wouldn’t be a surprise for this to be placed in the Musical/Comedy lane at the Golden Globes. We have seen years where the Actress derby there is rather weak (including in 2019 when none of the five nominees managed Academy recognition). That could allow Taylor-Joy to be noticed at the Globes. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Most horror remakes would not warrant an Oscar Watch post. However, when it’s an update of the 1977 Dario Argento cult classic and it’s directed by Luca Guadagnino – we come to the 2018 version of Suspiria.
The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival this weekend and it’s said to be a blend of gore and dance that departs significantly from its source material. Early critical reaction is very mixed and its drawn some comparisons to last year’s mother! That could be a sign that audiences could be baffled by this concoction.
Guadagnino saw his previous work, 2017 CallMebyYourName, nab a Best Picture nomination. That will not happen here and I don’t expect it to play any role in other high-profile categories, including the performances of Dakota Johnson or Tilda Swinton.
The new Suspiria is said to place a greater emphasis on dance sequences. If there was an Oscar for Best Choreography, this could be a shoo-in. There could be the possibility of recognition in Production Design or for Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke’s Original Score, but Suspiria is more likely to be a non-factor come Oscar time.
Bottom line: expect Suspiria to get lots of publicity, divide audiences, and generate controversy. Don’t expect awards attention.
The film comes out domestically on October 26. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness is a visually sumptuous experience that deserves a fascinating plot to go with the scenery. It’s not really there, however, so we’re left with an eye popping failure that goes on far too long. Spending two and a half hours in the Swiss Alps isn’t so bad at times, but I wish the screenwriter had realized the story is essentially nothing new. There’s shades of Shutter Island (not just because its lead resembles a younger Leo DiCaprio), plenty of Gothic horror entries, and even a Marathon Man school of dentistry moment. Does it add up to a satisfying whole? Not so much.
Dane DeHaan stars as Lockhart, a workaholic at an NYC financial firm who is tasked with traveling across the ocean to retrieve a coworker. That individual is Pembroke (Harry Groener), the company’s CEO who has gone MIA and is holed up at a mysterious “wellness center” in the mountains of Switzerland. The firm needs him back as they are mired in a trading scandal and forthcoming merger. Lockhart, with his unbridled ambition, is eager to do it.
Once there, he discovers a place filled with some of the world’s 1% trying to improve their lives. It’s run by the mysterious Dr. Heinrich Volmer (Jason Isaacs), who encourages Lockhart and his clientele to be drinking the water fed to them continuously. We suspect it’s not just to keep hydrated due to the altitude.
Lockhart is also told that once you’re at the lush spa, you don’t leave and he discovers this the hard way. His seemingly interminable stay (it sometimes feels that way for us too) acquaints him with Hannah (Mia Goth), a mysterious young girl who still acts far younger than she should. It is this duo that tries to discover the truth behind their surroundings.
A Cure for Wellness is a triumph of production design and other technical aspects. Verbinski, the director of Mousehunt and the American version of The Ring and first three Pirates of the Caribbean pics, has shown these abilities before. If only that pesky story were more original. If only the characters inhabiting this peculiar land were more developed. For instance, Dehaan’s lead character is saddled with a familiar backstory of Daddy issues. Two and a half hours is too much time to be spent here no matter how gorgeous it looks.
The cinematic stylings of director Gore Verbinski returns to screens next weekend when A Cure for Wellness opens. The horror thriller set in the Swiss Alps finds Dane DeHaan as a businessman trapped in a mysterious “wellness” center. Jason Isaacs and Mia Goth costar. Its trailer is filled with striking visuals that have part of Verbinski’s repertoire. The filmmaker had some massive hits with The Ring and Pirates of the Caribbean and its first two sequels. However, his previous effort The Lone Ranger was an expensive dud.
While the previews look fascinating, reviews have not been very strong and it stands at just 36% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. Its two and a half hour running time (something several critics have noted as a flaw) could also be a detriment, as well as competition for the same audience from John Wick: Chapter 2 and The Great Wall.
Wellness is highly likely to place third among the trio of newcomers debuting over Presidents Day weekend and it could struggle to place in the top five. I’ll say a low double digits premiere is the diagnosis here.
A Cure for Wellness opening weekend prediction: $10.2 million