A24 has developed a reputation for releasing gorgeous horror films that are as smart as they are gruesome. “X,” Ti West‘s latest foray into the genre continues this tradition with a film that is a masterful combination of hedonism, horror, humor, and homages.
The story takes place over 24 hours in 1979. The first image we see immediately places us in that time period with a grainy shot of an old farmhouse that appears to be framed in 4:3 aspect ratio. As a car approaches the camera slowly pushes forward, past the barn doors obstructing our view to reveal not only a widescreen format but multiple police cars and a scene of carnage. As the local PD surveys the site, we see multiple blood trails, covered bodies, and various weapons strewn about as an old-school, fire-and-brimstone preacher rants on a nearby tv. After the Sherriff sees something just off-screen that is more disturbing than the rest of the slaughter we are suddenly transported to the previous day. We meet Maxine (Mia Goth) and Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), two strippers who work for club owner and aspiring porn producer, Wayne (Martin Henderson). The trio all dream of something bigger and better, and Wayne believes that the brand new home movie market could be that opportunity. Wayne pulls together male talent Jackson (Kid Cudi), a young ambitious filmmaker RJ (Owen Campbell), and his shy girlfriend/sound assistant Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), and together they head out to a remote farm that has a spare house on the property up for rent. When they arrive, it quickly becomes clear that the very old and very odd couple that own the property were unaware of Wayne’s intentions. They start shooting, and as the hours of the day tick by tension builds as we begin to wonder when the owners will catch on and the blood will start flowing.
It’s important to hook an audience in the opening moments of a film, but showing the ending of a story first is often used as a gimmick to generate false interest at the expense of having a proper conclusion. More often than not it’s a red herring, meant to distract from the true outcome. (Trinity’s death at the beginning of “The Matrix Reloaded” is a prime example.) Ti West is well aware of this and instead uses this opening to build suspense. How many bodies did we see? Do they line up with the number of characters? Who is the killer? Will there be a final girl? It’s fascinating to see how much Ti leans into the genre but still subverts our expectations without making any of the characters behave in a manner that isn’t true to themselves. Multiple references are made to “Psycho” and without giving too much away, it truly is another version of that same story, which itself subverted audiences’ expectations at the time.
Based on the title and summary alone, it should be clear that this movie is not for everyone. There is copious nudity, sex, and when the time comes, gore. There are laughs, but its pretty dark, and often requires the appreciation of 70’s era slasher films to incite a grin. But, if you are a fan of previous A24 horror flicks, you won’t want to miss this. “X” really puts the maniac into nymphomanic.