Written and directed by Ti West
Tits, ass, and carnage is in store for patient grindhouse aficionados who decide to put on X for a night of bloody horror. It’s a genre-exercise, a faithful homage to the gruesome flicks of the 70s, and if you’re drunk, a little high, and/or satisfied with the right look and trappings, then look no further.
Taking X at more than just surface value means the gory pallor fades, though. Because is it also an homage that its characters are tinpot hollow and disposable meat bags? That character development is a city in Russia? Add to that a very slow wind-up on the part of West’s script and there’s plenty to run afoul of in this story of a smut film crew’s doomed on-location shoot in rural Texas.
Maxine (Mia Goth) wants to be the next big thing. Right now however, she shoots small-scale dirty pictures in and around Houston, but her producer boyfriend Wayne (Martin Henderson) says this next flick they’re making is the one. Porn-induced fame awaits as the home video revolution dawns and porn is set to truly make its way into living rooms across America.
With them are co-stars Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson Hole (Kid Cudi), sound girl Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) and director RJ (Owen Campbell). They pile into a van, pull up some time later at a dilapidated farmhouse where an ancient curmudgeon named Howard (Stephen Ure) greets them with a shotgun. Some coaxing from Wayne sets things straight, but as the group walks down towards the equally rundown house that’s to be their sexhut for the next 24 hours, a woman watches from the upstairs windows; someone who clearly has a keen eye for Maxine, her body, and the youth it represents…
What follows is gory, gory stuff to rival X’s inspirations, only it does so with better cinematography. The downfall is that it doesn’t rise above imitation for 90% of its runtime, and never comes close to standalone excellence. It’s one surprising moment – one defined by naked vulnerability amidst the grotesque – is over before you know it and then it’s back to the depravity.
Goth, Snow and Ortega all do well as scream queens, and the respective charms of Cudi, Henderson and Campbell make you wish they’d be give more to work with than the simple stereotypes offered them by the genre tick-boxes. Wouldn’t wholeass characters have been a way to subvert expectations?
During the film RJ, the director of the x-rated film within X, has to explain why he’s there at all. Why indulge seedy smut when you’re every bit a self-proclaimed cineaste. Isn’t it below you? RJ retorts, telling his doubters this porn flick will be like no other, because he treats it as cinema, and so the resulting picture will aspire to do more than just grant you a hard-on.
It’s easy to see a little of Ti West in RJ. X is an updated take on a genre that dates half a century back, was never a sophisticated spectacle, but had a hold on the public consciousness. To strive to change may have been a bridge too far in both instances.