*WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND IS INTENDED FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY. TW:// RAPE, SA*
“Is it possible to make a good dirty movie?”
Director Ti West answers that question in his original slasher, X. Despite a purposefully familiar aesthetic, the concept of a crew secretly filming an adult film on an elder couple’s property is original enough to warrant a hooked audience. Those looking for a campy sex romp will instead find a reverent exploration of aging and art that excitedly lives up to its creative ambitions.
Brittany Snow erases any memory of Prom Night and replaces it with Bobby-Lynne, who leads the film’s raciest moments. Making his genre debut is Scott Mescudi (rapper Kid Cudi.) His role as a sexually brazen war veteran srikes as both memorable and charismatic. Jenna Ortega brings wide-eyed sincerity and her signature scream last heard in January’s Scream. Mia Goth is a versatile wonder pulling double duty as the violently jealous Pearl and deliciously fierce Maxine.
X displays a remarkable amount of skin, semen, and blood without treading gratuitous territory. West’s camera never lingers on these elements for long. One particular sex scene is heard amid closes-ups of recording equipment, playing with the separation of art from reality. Sexual assault and rape get close-ups and camera-time, but thankfully not long enough to feel exploitative
In fact, the lack of exploitation keeps the film’s tone modern, along with its sex-positive themes. It’s invigorating to find no moral degradation behind these characters’ sexual agency. At long last, sex workers are centralized without insecurities or trauma rationalizing their profession. Only terribly corrupt characters (Goth’s Pearl and Ortega’s Lorraine) pass damning judgment. What arises as true horror is the construct of morality itself.
Sadly, X briefly (and needlessly) includes police. Since 2020, Hollywood has attempted to remedy calls for glorified portrayals of police by filling those roles with Black actors. It was mentioned in Horror in Color’s review for A Quiet Place Part II, so it must be restated: police did not serve any purpose in this movie.
X’s musicality, however, is a true joy. From Snow’s “Landslide” cover to Pearl’s dance in blood-soaked headlights, music accentuates every underlying tension. Pearl’s movement is gentle, soothing, and brilliantly gratifying. Tyler Bates and Chelsea Wolfe crafted a titillating score that stands on its own against classic Horror features.
Every part of this 70s nightmare feels relevant today. Even Howard, one half of the elderly white couple, can be argued as an allegory for the docile moderate who understands rationality yet defies it to please those around him. Alligators circling a naked Maxine allude to the predatory lens through which men often view women. Even the flash of a “65 cent” gas sign stabs at viewers today. Ouch.
X makes a case for itself as a more worthy Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel than its newest Netflix counterpart. Classic Horror imagery (Psycho, TCM, etc.) is sprinkled throughout the short running time. West has achieved a guiltless “X factor” that exemplifies how “good” and “dirty” belong together. Let’s hope that his prequel Pearl continues to straddle that line between the two.