X (2022) - 7/10
I try not to find out too much about a film before I watch it. No reviews (I know, I know), no trailers. Instantly with X though, I’m getting Texas Chainsaw vibes. It helps perhaps that we are in Texas. Rural Texas. The type of dangerous looking Texas, with searing heat and punishing sunshine. It also helps that we open on a scene with cops discovering a bloodbath massacre at a remote farm house. There’s a sense that Texas cops have seen everything isn’t there, that’s the sense I get anyway. I’ve no desire to go anywhere near Texas from what I’ve seen on the big screen, but these cops are shocked. Where has all this blood come from, what’s that axe doing wedged into the wooden porch and what made the fuzz utter those classic words “Oh my god” as they shone their torches around the basement. Rewind 24 hours to Maxine (Mia Goth) snorting coke in front of a dingy dressing room mirror. It’s 1979 and she’s an aspiring adult actress, making DIY porn with a small crew headed out into the sticks with the hicks. We already know things are going to go tits up, but there’s no, ‘I wonder who’ll be first?’ here. There’s a genuine solid story to X to match the gore. Maxine wants to be a star. Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) already thinks she is. They’re all here on the promise that they’ll hit the big time thanks to Wayne (Martin Henderson) the producer with a vision for the impending boom of VHS home porn. The odd one out is Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) who’s working the sound for her boyfriend cameraman, DOP, wannabe auteur RJ (Owen Campbell). They’re all free and fun-loving… but is backwater Texas? No don’t be silly. It’s a world of televangelists watching Bible belters and psychopaths. I watched Pearl earlier today, which I now realise is a prequel of sorts to this. An origin story of being trapped and psychotic on a farm between the world wars. I say of sorts as the timelines don’t sync, but it’ll become clear why. They pull up to an old farm house and it’s hard not to keep pulling the narrative threads from ‘Pearl’ to this, but let’s just say there are many. Including the farm where their host Howard lives. He’s an old gnarly gun toting straight talking type that doesn’t like them much, certainly not the only black person in the group, Jackson (Kid Cudi), but he’s got a barn conversion for rent. One where they can stay and shoot porn, as long as he doesn’t find out what they’re up to. If the two parties keep to themselves maybe everything will be okay… but that’s not going to happen now is it. Ti West has an eye for a good shot, good tone, perfect pacing and all are present here. Whilst the cheesy 70s porn is being shot, Maxine finds herself exploring the surroundings and the farmhouse, invited in by Howard’s mysteriously eerie ghostlike wife, Pearl (Mia Goth in a lot of make up) and the story begins to twist. The potential depth here, works wonderfully with the shallowness of the sex and although it takes its time putting things into place, there’s very little fluff and once Pearl reveals herself as the real deplorable danger, the blood begins to fly and we’re off to the races. There’s some great needle drops, the score is menacingly unnerving and the jump scares will set your teeth on edge. There are issues though, loose threads and the one thing it’s lacking is reason. It’s suggested, but I can see why Pearl now exists. I’m not sure if watching them backwards as I have helps or not, but I suspect it does. However I’ve a feeling it’s more fun watching X first. It borrows a lot, from the aforementioned Texas chainsaw Massacre to The Shining, but it does it very well and despite wearing its horror credentials on its sleeve and foreshadowing events with that opening scene, it still keeps you guessing. Not least in the sex scenes, one of which is clearly designed to kill any viewers mood. X is not a great film, but it’s a very good one. Easily becoming more than the sum of its bloodied parts, as it weaves a story of age and opportunities into a straight up slasher.