X is a 2022 independent slasher film written, directed, produced and edited by Ti West. It is from arthouse distributor A24 and a slasher movie about what really horrifies us. Writer/director Ti West (from The House of the Devil fame) builds a movie that a youth-obsessed society is far more terrified than a evil boogeyman, of not only growing old, but of confronting the fact that the elderly may still possess some very inconvenient desires.
The movie is set in 1979 Texas and stars Mia Goth as Maxine, an aspiring young porn performer who travels with her older producer boyfriend (Martin Henderson) to a remote farm outside Houston to shoot an adult film for the booming theatrical pornography market. Along for the ride are two other performers (Kid Cudi and Brittany Snow), as well as the director and soundperson (Owen Campbell and Jenna Ortega), the latter of whom quickly decides that her best talents lie in front of the camera, not behind it. Bobby-Lynne and Jackson strike up a romance, while Lorraine is unimpressed with the film’s content until she sees Jackson “performing”, with RJ attempting to make it seem like a serious cinematic piece.
True to form, the farm is isolated and creepy, and the group’s first interaction with the ancient proprietor (Stephen Ure), Howard, comes at the business end of a shotgun. Howard makes it clear that he disapproves of any youthful shenanigans on his property (and that’s well before he realizes what they are actually up to). He claims he wants to protect his elderly wife, Pearl (also played by Mia Goth) from any shocks. But just who needs protection — and from whom — quickly grows complicated and forms the crux of this disturbing story.
As filming commences without Howard’s knowledge, Maxine is invited inside the couple’s home by Pearl (after almost being eaten by an alligator in the couple’s pond of which she was blissfully unaware of) where they have a conversation. Pearl laments her age, expresses jealousy for Maxine’s youth, and makes a sexual advance towards her. She later watches Maxine have sex with Jackson and is aroused. Pearl pleads with Howard to have sex with her, but he refuses, claiming his heart is too weak. Night falls, and the film crew relaxes in the guesthouse. Lorraine, keen to shed her reputation as a prude and intrigued by the film, asks to participate in the shoot. RJ is immediately opposed to the idea and accuses the group of putting her up to it, though they assure him that they did not and that Lorraine’s choice to be in the movie falls on her alone, regardless of his feelings. RJ then films the scene of Lorraine and Jackson having sex.
Frustrated with the change in the script and in shock by Lorraine’s unfaithfulness, RJ sets out to leave the crew stranded at the farm while they are asleep, but he is stopped by Pearl, who attempts to seduce him. When he rejects her advances, she stabs him to death in a gory bloodlust. Lorraine and Wayne notice RJ is missing and go searching. Pearl kills Wayne with a pitchfork in the barn, right through his eyes, while Lorraine is invited into the couple’s house by Howard, who claims Pearl is missing and asks Lorraine to retrieve a flashlight from the basement. When Lorraine attempts to leave the basement, she discovers she has been locked in. After turning on the light, she discovers the rigged corpse of a male sex slave horrifying her.
Howard approaches the guest house and asks a gloriously nude Jackson and his “extra long Johnson” to help him locate Pearl. Jackson finds a submerged car in a pond (belonging to the corpse in the basement) before Howard shoots him dead, revealing himself to be complicit in Pearl’s violent tendencies. Meanwhile, Pearl enters the guest house and climbs into Maxine’s bed naked. Maxine awakens and screams, causing Pearl to flee the house, which Bobby-Lynne witnesses. In the farmhouse, Lorraine uses a hatchet to break through a panel in the basement door, but Howard attacks her, breaking her finger, and forces her back inside. Bobby-Lynne follows Pearl outside to the nearby lake and tries to guide her away from the water. Pearl angrily accuses Bobby-Lynne of being a whore before pushing her into the lake, where she is devoured by an alligator.
Maxine sees Pearl and Howard return to the guest house and hides under the bed. The elderly couple discusses the murders before having sex. Maxine manages to flee to the van, where she finds RJ’s corpse and the tires to the van, slashed. Armed with a pistol from the glovebox, Maxine enters the farmhouse and frees Lorraine, who angrily blames Maxine for what has happened. Lorraine panics and runs out the front door, only to be shot by Howard. As Howard and Pearl begin moving the bodies, intent on framing the crew as intruders, a dying Lorraine moves, startling Howard, who has a heart attack and dies.
Maxine retrieves the keys to Howard and Pearl’s truck and attempts to shoot Pearl, but the pistol is not loaded. Pearl tries to shoot Maxine, who dodges, while the recoil from the shotgun causes Pearl to fall and break her hip. As Pearl lies injured outside the house, she begs Maxine for help. Maxine refuses, and as Pearl berates her, Maxine runs her over with the truck, crushing Pearl’s head. Maxine drives away from the farm. The next morning, the police arrive at the house to retrieve the bodies. It is revealed that Maxine is the daughter of a fundamentalist Christian preacher, whose speeches frequently played on Howard and Pearl’s television. The police discover RJ’s camera and speculate about what it contains.
Since “X” is a slasher film, it’s not spoiling anything to note that most of these people will not make it out alive. An axe, a pitchfork and a shotgun are all in easy reach, and for good measure there’s an alligator in the pond. Howard and his wife, Pearl, give off sinister vibes, and West’s knack for zooming, cutting, manipulating point of view and layering sinister sounds creates an unmistakable anticipation of doom. Ti West wants to show that despite their physical superiority over the, ahem, monsters on the loose, the visitors are nevertheless doomed by their ignorance and inexperience, underestimating the threats on the farm until it’s too late. It never even occurs to them to consider what some people might still want — or be capable of. Basically a flaw inherent in almost every horror movie actor. Still, in the tradition of A24 arthouse horror such as Hereditary, Midsommar, and The Witch, the movie puts ideas in the foreground as much as it does bloodshed. West knows that slasher and porn films are less about violence and sex, respectively, and more about the shock and titillation of social transgression. With X, he has made a movie in which the most unsettling moments compel the viewer to question what society really considers taboo and why.
For one thing, X could hardly be more upfront about its son-of-“Chain Saw” atmosphere — which is to say it’s a deliberate, loving, and meticulous homage that isn’t simply trying to cash in on the legacy of the greatest horror film of the last half century. “X” is threaded with blithe references to key films — a car in a swamp like the one in “Psycho,” an ax through a door like the one that kicks off Jack Nicholson’s rampage in “The Shining,” an alligator borrowed from “Alligator” (ingeniously shot from high above in one jittery sequence), an ending that nods to the premise of Paul Schrader’s “Hardcore” (which came out in 1979). All in all, X is a highly enjoyable film and it makes me look forward to the prequel, “Pearl” which dives into the background of the film’s villain.
X is a comeback for the Slasher film genre, reminiscent of classics like Texas Chainsaw Massacre while asking deep questions about aging and desires. Prepare to be uncomfortable while enjoying this slasher flick.