I’ve been underwhelmed by the slasher genre lately. New entries in fan favorite franchises like Halloween Kills and Netflix’s new Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot have failed to impress. These films seem to be relying doing the thing you’ve seen and liked before in the least interesting way possible. The vibe I got most while watching X, A24’s new slasher by director Ti West, was of 2007’s Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino collab Grindhouse. Yes, like Planet Terror and Death Proof, X is a throwback to a very specific kind of horror – delightfully self-aware, sleazy, tawdry, low budget, extreme sexuality and extreme violence 1970s exploitation horror.
X follows a group of filmmakers and actors, traveling to a farmhouse in rural Texas, where their elderly hosts aren’t exactly welcoming. And things only get worse when they find out the group has gathered to make a pornographic film on their property, leading the cast and crew into a desperate fight for their lives.
X is electric and shocking in the best possible way, a way that so many American horror films have forgotten how to do lately. The first third of the movie or so may start slow, but as we establish this group of unlucky characters, we understand why they matter and yet X never asks you to root for or even like any of the characters here, which I think is important in a slasher. I need to not care about the people who are about to die in hilariously gruesome ways too much.
The individual performances here are also quite impressive, and it pleases me to report that Jenna Ortega’s rise to iconic scream queen continues, however, she isn’t the standout here. Mia Goth is the film’s lead, if there is one, and she also isn’t exactly a character anybody is rooting for. However, Goth is called upon to do a lot, and she’s pretty fantastic here. Brittany Snow and rapper Kid Cudi are also surprisingly well cast here, both delightfully chewing every bit of scenery in sight.
Is X really anything more than a really well-done slasher throwback? Not really. Not having seen any of Ti West’s other films, but having heard a lot about them, I take it that’s his strength – method and execution. This is an exceptionally made genre film that owes a lot to the score and Eliot Rockett’s cinematography, but West’s script is economic and brisk and surprisingly funny. I wouldn’t quite call X a horror comedy, but there’s this winking self-awareness to everything, you can just feel West giggling behind the camera.
I also hear I should have stayed through the end credits, because apparently there’s something there that teases another film in this universe that has already been made. I had somewhere to be after the movie, and I’m kicking myself for not staying, but I’ll just have to go see X again. In the end, X is an incredibly effective genre throwback – a brutal and bloody good time that delivers the exact kind of film you want from this. If you’ve been exhausted by Hollywood’s inability to do these well, X kind of feels like a breath of fresh air.