Directed by Ti West.
Starring Mia Goth, Brittany Snow, Martin Henderson.
Horror, US, 105 minutes, certificate 18.
Released in cinemas in the UK 18th March by Entertainment Film Distributors.
It has been nine years since Ti West last directed a film, 2013’s THE SACRAMENT. Aside from some television credits it seemed that he was fading into cult obscurity with his small yet impressive filmography. What a great surprise then that he comes roaring back onto cinema screens with X, a slice of Southern fried horror that starts off as a riff on Tobe Hooper’s most notable films that then becomes something that is very much in West’s own singular voice.
Telling the tale of a small crew travelling to a backwoods farmhouse to make a porno behind the elderly owners back this is very much a slasher film with the basic ingredients intact; a young cast indulging in sex and drugs (two of the biggest cardinal sins of slasher cinema), a remote location and a creepy, ill-tempered old man. The template is a tried and tested one seen many times before. Set in 1979 the Texas setting feels familiar also. When the credits, using the same font as Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE, set up a character-building scene in a van travelling along a dusty highway, you may get the feeling that X feels like it can use such cues to make a simple slice of throwback cinema. It soon becomes apparent however that while he may be celebrating a much-missed director, West is more interested in subverting the genre’s tropes.
The mysterious old woman in the window is the trope where West takes the opportunity to explore a subject within this sub-genre that is very much unexplored. The regrets and longing for a life that has long been left behind while playing against this is the confidence of youth and the entitlement that comes with it. It may seem like a dry, even existential, issue for such a film but West’s script as well as his talented cast create a stable of likable and interesting characters. Mia Goth does well as Maxine bringing a believable, hard edge to her role that in any other slasher film would mark her out as a potential victim who deserves what is coming to her. Martin Henderson as her boyfriend/director also gives his sleazy character a humorous edge while Brittany Snow’s Bobby-Lynne also brings an extra dimension to the usual role of the ditzy actress.
A sizable amount of the films time is spent hanging out with the characters while in the background seeds are planted for the bloody carnage in the final act. It may be a tad overlong before then with one characters about turn working on the adult film feeling underdeveloped. After this though we are off to the races with a nasty and tense third act that smartly and convincingly lays out the motives and madness of the films antagonists whilst paying homage yet again to EATEN ALIVE with the films bloodiest kill.
Despite the absence of power tools this is a better Texas Chain Saw Massacre film than the recent Netflix reboot/sequel. X shows off West’s strengths as director and writer and how good it is to have him back. This welcome return to the screen makes the prospect of the already filmed prequel PEARL an exciting one. Let’s just hope that we don’t have to wait another near decade for whatever comes after that.