Film: X

Given promising recent developments in the horror genre, I decided to give low-budget slasher flick X (2022) a look. This one generated considerable buzz for its cagey, retro approach, but what really drew my curiosity was learning that a prequel film, Pearl, was filmed concurrently and released later­. Something about the guerilla filmmaking nature of this unusual project sounded intriguing, but alas, X itself didn’t thrill me.

In 1979 Texas, a shoestring film production sets out in a van for a remote farm, led by sleazy strip joint owner Wayne Gilroy (Martin Henderson). The goal: shoot an artsy porno, making the entire crew’s fortunes. Accompanying Wayne is his girlfriend and one of the film’s stars, Maxine (Mia Goth), and the rest of the crew: actors Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Scott Mescudi), ambitious film-school student RJ (Owen Campbell), and RJ’s girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega). With the exception of the buttoned-down Lorraine, it’s a liberated, open group that sees nothing wrong with their project. Unfortunately, that may not be the case for the elderly man who owns the property they’re renting, Howard (Stephen Ure), whose attitude suggests he finds the group’s very existence sordid and unsavory. Wayne decides to proceed with the film anyway, without Howard’s knowledge, but before long, Howard and his wife get wind of what’s happening, and their judgement is fatal.

There are definitely meta layers to X, a movie set in the seventies that looks like it was shot in the seventies, blending two distinctly seventies genres: sexploitation and gory, slasher horror. Writer/director Ti West just barely slaps a coat of paint over the grimy walls of his influences here, setting up the small cast to be systematically eviscerated by his creepy, elderly murderers. Unrecognizable under thick prosthetics, Ure and Goth (who also portrays Howard’s frustrated wife Pearl) provide the requisite homicidal intensity; if anything, it’s a breakout role for Goth, who has recently become a prominent modern scream queen. It’s not as if there’s no thematic thought to it—it’s definitely interested in the awkward intersections of aging and sexuality, pitting them in deadly opposition. But beyond an effective desire to pay homage to bygone genres, there isn’t much to it beyond that.

Mia Goth in X
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