X

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Certain productions evoke an age so perfectly that they feel as if they were made in that decade. It is most admirable that for a significant portion of its runtime, X is a well-mounted period piece. OK so the period is 1979 and the piece surrounds a small crew making an adult movie, but the aesthetic of X is artfully realized. The visual manifestation of the era is off the charts.

The traveling troupe is an eclectic mix of memorable personalities. Mia Goth is starlet Maxine Minx and Wayne is her producer boyfriend. Actor Martin Henderson is doing an amusing impression of Matthew McConaughey as the wannabe mogul. The rest of the troupe includes her fellow actors Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi). Aspirational director RJ Nichols (Owen Campbell) thinks he’s creating art, and his innocent but curious girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) does not. There’s a simmering feeling of unease that compels us to keep watching.

The group is on a road trip in rural Texas to photograph a new film. They arrive at the remote farm of cantankerous Howard (Stephen Ure) and lusty Pearl (also played by Mia Goth) — a creepy elderly couple. We’re not supposed to notice that both actors are aged with makeup, but the pair look a bit odd. Howard brandishing a shotgun is downright hostile. I would have turned around at this point. Nevertheless, he allows them to stay in the guest house anyway. The ensemble begins secretly recording The Farmer’s Daughters there without their hosts knowing. Ah but there’s a bit of humor lurking in the shadows. You see it turns out X is really a slasher film. Everyone knows that the sexual desire surrounding a porno shoot is exactly the kind of thing that’s going to incur the wrath of a killer.

X remains bloodless for so long, that I forgot it was horror. The vivid atmosphere of the 1970s is pure and the human conversation is surprisingly genuine. I was disappointed when it ultimately devolved into a mass of dead bodies. Writer-director Ti West (The House of the Devil, V/H/S) evokes the backwoods dread of pictures like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. This is a sincere homage. He also drapes hackneyed themes onto the narrative. The superficial exploration of aging, mortality, religion, and morality is as effective as a diaphanous shawl in a snowstorm. Honest scares are appreciated though. I’ll admit a hungry alligator provides a potent shock. This should satiate fans of arty slashers. (Is that a thing?) However, I was disheartened by the promise unfulfilled. An evocative setup is consummated by the predictability of the genre. I guess the destruction of human bodies never goes out of style.

X is currently available as a video rental through streaming services (Amazon, Microsoft, Apple TV, FlixFling, etc.) and on DVD, which means it’s $1.99 at a Redbox kiosk.

05-24-22

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