SXSW Review: X

Writer-Director Ti West’s reverence for the history of independent horror is on display with his latest feature in the most horrific and blood-splattered way possible.

By Sean Blanford

We have been told from a young age that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Most will judge beauty purely on the aesthetics of what is presented before them, while others will look deeper than what is shown on the surface. In X, writer-director Ti West asks what one is willing to do to get the attention of the ones you love, no matter the age. While this may sound like a romantic/drama, it is one of the most terrifying, blood-soaked horror films of the 2020s.

While the film begins where it eventually ends, we are first introduced to our leads 24-hours after these initial events. Maxine (Mia Goth) is a club dancer who is as high on herself becoming the next big thing, whether with or without the cocaine she is snorting throughout the film. Her boyfriend Wayne (Martin Henderson) has aspirations of making a XXX film that is much more than your run-of-the-mill porn fare. Alongside Maxine to star in the movie are Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Kid Cudi), as well as the two-person film team of couple RJ (Owen Campbell) and Lorraine (Jenna Ortega). To stay out of the way of the prying eyes of those who may judge them in the big city, they rent out a boarding house on wide-open farmland out in the middle of nowhere from an older couple who own the land. Things start harmless enough, but it’s when the sun goes down is where the true horrors begin.

X‘s strengths begin with the camaraderie between our six leads, with everyone getting their own story to tell. The most interesting of the bunch is Ortega’s Lorraine, first being seen as a church mouse on the outside of the leading group but comes out of her shell to the point where she wants to prove herself to everyone by stepping in front of the camera, much to the dismay of her boyfriend RJ. Wayne has big ideas of where the film can lead, boasting that his film could be what makes the home cinema market boom. RJ himself wants to make his movie special by adding special editing techniques that mirror those in the French films he admires (an approach heavily featured in X itself). Even the older couple who own the land are given something to do, which is appreciated because their characters could have been easily disposable.

The film as a whole has the feel of the 1970s independent horror, from the goosebump-inducing score composed by Tyler Bates and Chelsea Wolfe intertwined with rock classic of the era down to the single location setting and production design. The film is elevated into the 21st century through the quality of the kills and gore. X went for the practical approach with a flourish, with every stab, slash, and gunshot reverberating throughout the audience. While the ways some of our characters meet their demise come out of nowhere and either feel rushed or telegraphed, that unpredictability can be seen as a positive or a negative in the eyes of some. The is not a film for the weak in constitution, but if you are a gore-hound, there is still a good chance you will be enjoying the movie through the slits made through your fingers while they’re covering your eyes. It is an uncomfortable watch in all the best ways possible.

In a Q&A session after the film’s premiere, West stated that with X, he wanted to show that, much like the film within a film, you could create something great out of genres on the periphery of cinema like horror and pornography. From the practical approach in the movie’s initial setup to its jaw-dropping conclusion, West succeeded in that goal in spades. Everything can be beautiful for one reason or another, even if that beauty is bathed in crimson.

Grade: 4.5/5 (A)

X made its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival on March 13th. It will be distributed in the United States by A24 and released on March 18th. The film is Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, graphic nudity, drug use, and language.

Author: Sean Blanford

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