X (2022) – Exceptional Horror Movie Captures Feel of Both 1970s Horror and Porn Movies

It’s 1979, and a group of young filmmakers set up shop at a farmhouse in rural Texas where they plan to shoot a porno movie, hoping to cash in on the growing genre, but the elderly owners of the farm where they are staying have some rather different ideas about sex and don’t take too kindly to the acts happening under the roof of their guest house. In fact, things get rather violent. And very, very bloody.

That’s the premise behind X (2022), a new horror movie by writer/director Ti West, which in the process of telling this compelling story, also captures the feel of both a 1970s porn flick and a 1970s horror movie. It’s DEBBIE DOES DALLAS meets THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977).

Maxine (Mia Goth) wants to be a star, and as she says, she doesn’t want to be denied all that life can give her, and so she travels with her much older boyfriend Wayne (Martin Henderson) to make an adult movie in which she will star. Wayne is the brains behind the movie and serves as the producer. He hires a young filmmaker RJ (Owen Campbell) whose intent is to make more than just a porn film, as he wants to give it style. Helping RJ is his young girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), and rounding out the team is Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), a stripper with adult movie experience, and her boyfriend Jackson (Kid Cudi) who plays the main male lead in their movie, “The Farmer’s Daughter,” which follows Jackson’s character as he arrives at a farmhouse when his car breaks down and meets the various daughters at the farm. Well, it is a porn movie, after all!

All is well, until the old couple at the main farmhouse discover what they are doing, and then the body count begins.

I really enjoyed X, and one of the main reasons is that Ti West’s screenplay in addition to creating interesting characters tells a far deeper story than a murder tale about two elderly prudes who want to stamp out the evils of sex. The prevalent them in X is aging and how life goes by in the blink of an eye. The couple, Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (also played by Mia Goth)— both actors are under heavy prosthetic make-up to make them look exceedingly old— are haunted by the fact that the best times of their lives have passed them by, especially Pearl, who seeks out Maxine, and is sexually attracted to her.

Heck, you can break things down here to the fact that Pearl just wants to have sex, and she can’t anymore. Her husband Howard is too afraid to touch her because of his weak heart, and he fears that he won’t survive a sexual encounter. So, when Pearl observes these people having sex while making their movie, she is motivated more by jealousy than out of moral disdain.

There’s also a PSYCHO vibe happening here… in fact, Hitchcock’s classic is mentioned in a conversation in the movie… as when Pearl disappears, and Howard asks for help finding her, he says she’s not well, and after a pause says he’s afraid she would get lost in the woods alone, but during that pause, the implication is that, in the words of Norman Bates, “she just goes a little crazy sometimes.”

We will learn more about Pearl, because Ti West is filming a prequel to this movie about the character, and Mia Goth will reprise the role.

Speaking of Goth, she is outstanding here in the dual role of Maxine and Pearl. As Maxine, Goth exudes sexuality and promise, and it’s clear that she will do just about anything to fulfill her goal of becoming a famous star. As Pearl, Goth captures a weary sadness of a life gone by, while at the same time imbuing the old woman with an underlying sense of insanity. You know right away that there’s something off about this lady, and that she is capable of some truly violent acts.

Mia Goth is no stranger to horror movies. She starred in A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016), Gore Verbinski’s atmospheric and steamy flick about a sinister wellness center that captured the look and feel of the classic Hammer movies of yesteryear. It was one of my favorite movies that year. Goth also starred in the remake of SUSPIRIA (2018).

With his cowboy hat and southern drawl, Martin Henderson channels a Matthew McConaughey vibe in his performance as Wayne, the smooth-talking producer and man running the show. Brittany Snow as Bobby-Lynne is sufficiently sexy and wise to the ways of the world, and Kid Cudi is solid as Jackson, the porn actor who is also a Vietnam vet who is cool under pressure.

Owen Campbell is convincing as RJ, the young innovative filmmaker, who wants to be creating art here rather than pornography, and Jenna Ortega is spot on as Lorraine, RJ’s girlfriend who barely says a word and seems to frown upon the type of movie they are making, but then does an about face and decides she wants to be in the movie, a turnaround that does not sit well with RJ. She also gets one of the film’s better moments, late in the game, when she’s screaming and hysterical, and Maxine begs her to calm down, that they need to work together, to which Lorraine basically tells her to go f*ck herself and she runs smack dab into the end of her life, which is one of the few laugh out loud moments in the movie.

Once the movie pivots to straight horror in its final thirty minutes, director Ti West holds nothing back in the gore department. As I said, it captures the feel and flavor of 1970s horror. Some of the killings are over the top and will generate nervous laughter. In fact, in a few places, West uses humor well, including the last line of the movie, spoken by the sheriff who up until that point hadn’t uttered a single line in the entire film.

So, on top of ample sex, there’s plenty of blood and gore, and West handles it all expertly. The film earns its R rating, and then some. I was somewhat disappointed that the film included yet another “bare foot stepping on a nail” scene, which seems to be a thing nowadays and has been featured in numerous horror movies in recent years. But the rest of the fright scenes work well, from eye gouging to head smashing, and even a hungry alligator gets in on the action. If you love gore, you won’t be disappointed, and if you’re squeamish, you may find yourself looking away from the screen.

The “X” in the title obviously refers to the X rating which was used for porn films back in the 1970s, but it also has the double meaning for something Wayne continually talks about in the movie, the “X-factor,” which is as he says that thing which some people just have which makes them a success and separates them from people with equal talent. He continually tells Maxine that she’s got it.

And in life, this is largely true. Regardless of the endeavor, some people just have “it,” that uncategorized intangible thing, some call it charisma or a gift, that gives them an edge. In this film, Maxine believes she has this X-factor, and it drives her personality forward and influences her actions. She is someone who is trying to break away from her past, take part in the American dream, and become a success.

X, which was released theatrically back in March, and is now available to rent on Prime Video, is a well-made horror movie that I liked a lot. It has interesting characters, a plot that goes deeper than one would expect in a horror movie about the making of a porn movie, and once it gets to its horror sequences, takes no prisoners and goes for the throat all the way down to its final reel.

X is X-ceptional horror.

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