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.
**1/2 (out of four)