CAST: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Scott Mescudi, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure
RUNNING TIME: 105 mins
BASICALLY…: A group of young pornographers find themselves terrorised by their elderly hosts…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
It seems as though 2022 did give us a rather good sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre after all, and it certainly wasn’t the one that just showed up on Netflix. Instead, Ti West’s throwback slasher X is far more fitting of the tone, atmosphere, filmmaking and writing of Tobe Hooper’s horror classic than not just last month’s tired “requel” rehash Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but also most of the other sequels and reboots in that franchise. All it took, apparently, was taking things back to basics: an original story, set amongst an ambitious group of young travellers, who wind up becoming the prey of some unkindly Texan folk (no chainsaws here, though, but there is a rather eye-piercing use of a pitchfork at one point).
West’s film, while of course not in any way shape or form an actual Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, embodies a lot of the chilling and disturbing qualities that made Hooper’s film the classic it is regarded as being today, but it is made more unique by also embodying the spunky spirit another unlikely 70s-set classic: Boogie Nights. Combining both makes for a hugely entertaining stab at the familiar slasher formula, and contains plenty of material to make horror fans of all corners reasonably happy.
Set in 1979, we follow a small group of pornographers – including actresses Maxine (Mia Goth) and Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), male performer Jackson (Scott Mescudi), producer Wayne (Martin Henderson), director RJ (Owen Campbell) and boom operator Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) – who visit an isolated farm to film their newest movie, which they hope to be a hit on the booming home video market. Unfortunately, the farm’s elderly and reclusive owners Pearl and Howard (both played respectively by Mia Goth and Stephen Ure in some decent old peron make-up) soon catch onto what their new guests are doing, leading to an absolute bloodbath reserved only for the likes of, well, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
With the gorgeous plains of New Zealand subbing in for rural Texas (not that you can tell just by looking at it), X boasts some high-tier filmmaking on West’s part, who combines some effective cinematography and stylised editing (co-credited to West himself), which frequently cuts between the end of the previous scene and the start of the next, to achieve a visual approach that could well have existed back in the late 1970s. Further elements like the gore effects used during the murderous second half, or even some of the soundtrack choices like Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” playing during one horrific kill, add to the overwhelming atmosphere created by West which avoids simple retro comparisons and exists just as its own, furiously 70s standalone. Like with last year’s outstanding throwback horror Censor, at no point do you ever feel that this is simply a pale pastiche of classic exploitation movie conventions that were common during that era, but rather something that could have genuinely existed back then while having enough legs to still hold up nearly fifty years later. Few filmmakers can achieve this without being fully self-aware or needlessly critical of some old conventions, but West does because he’s not out to just make a film he would have loved to have seen from back then, but to just make a strong film in and of itself, and he largely succeeds at that.
Part of it has to do with how, in addition to all the death and destruction, West also does a good job with making you interested in these characters, to a point where you’re not really wanting a whole bunch of them to get killed. Hanging out with the main pornographers is a lot of fun, as you really get a sense of their passion in making X-rated material without getting too worked up over what the rest of the world thinks about them, to a point where their ambition in making their movie is enough to convince someone like Jenna Ortega’s Lorraine, referred to as “Church Mouse” for her initially conservative persona, to become curious enough to participate in the on-screen debauchery. Even the elderly killers avoid falling into one-dimensional archetypes, as we also spend a good amount of time with them alone, allowing us to see their obsessions eventually develop into full-on murder. Themes of sexual repression and liberation are rampant throughout, and West does well to give each of his characters enough reason to serve as a walking commentary on either end of the argument.
Overall, Ti West’s X marks a gory spot of fun which never becomes dull, even with its slow-burn pacing and a wraparound segment which admittedly does feel unnecessary, and is certainly a truer spiritual successor to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than the actual follow-up that was recently released. Better yet, the buck doesn’t stop with this film, as apparently West also managed to secretly film a prequel to this film at the same time, and given what he brings to the horror game with X, who knows what he’ll do for this upcoming companion piece.
SO, TO SUM UP…
X marks a gory spot of exploitation fun, with filmmaker Ti West impressively crafting his film to closely resemble a late-70s horror akin to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with well-rounded characters and some entertainingly gory moments that make it a decent spiritual successor to that horror classic.