Another farm-based horror moovie from A24 (Lamb, The Witch), X follows a film crew (Jenna Ortega, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell and Mia Goth) to Texas to shoot the next great porno, only to see them transition from laid to flayed. Let’s call it The Texas Grain Store Massacre.
A skin flick in every sense, Ti West’s 1979-set slasher delivers all the sex and violence promised by its premise, let down by a porno-thin plot and hokey hillbilly villains (Stephen Ure and Mia Goth, again). The background noise of televangelism and the emerging home video market basically condenses Wes Craven’s journey (Baptist upbringing, porn director, horror filmmaker) into a scuzzy love letter to ‘70s exploitation cinema, complete with Texas Chain Saw Massacre prosthetics and a Last House on the Left-style lake, home to an alligator-related money shot.
Not a xXx prequel, X marks an improvement on the recent crop of slashers thanks to well-played characters (better than the usual teenage meatsacks) and Tobe Hooper-inspired compositions. West has fun aping contemporary editing tricks and old-school porn, all to a jukebox soundtrack featuring Fleetwood Mac and Blue Öyster Cult. It turns from Boogieman Nights to Lake Flacid after a midway Scream-esque discussion of Psycho, where the movie states that horror depends on the unexpected, then does exactly what it looked like it was doing all along. The only mystery is why you would promise a twist in the dialogue then fail to include one.
West also forgets that the less we know about a horror antagonist the better, over-explaining his OAP villains, the elderly monster trope quickly getting old. Like a ravenous porn star the film tries to have it both ways, expecting us to feel both repulsion and remorse for the decrepit duo. It fails on both counts and they just end up looking like comical codgers. In the end X achieves the characters’ aim of making a good dirty movie if not a great horror film, despite going out of its way to explain the difference: whereas in horror you are surprised, porn you see coming.