I don’t know about anyone else, but Monday afternoon I was still dealing with the bad taste that this year’s Oscars left in my mouth. What better way to clear that out than with a movie homage to 1970’s grindhouse horror? Ti West’s ‘X’ is a short love-letter to the gore-filled/sex-romps of the late 70’s and early 80’s. You know, the kind that grandma raised you on? Although it doesn’t by any means re-invent the genre, it remains visually interesting and throws in some unique story ideas to keep things fresh.
Deep In The Heart of Texas
‘X’ centers around a group of six film-making hopefuls out of Houston, TX. In an effort to capitalize on the success of recent adult movies, they plan to head out to the country to film their own. They select a filming locale and rent out an old home located on the farm of an off-putting elderly gentleman and his wife. It’s clear from the first interaction it’s an uneasy partnership between the old man (played by Stephen Ure) and Wayne (the brash, hopeful executive producer played by Martin Henderson).
Unaware of why his guests are there, he sets them up for their stay but warns them to not cause any trouble so as to not upset his wife. It’s made clear that she is older and gets easily confused. This sets up for a simmering tension that lasts through the film and (without spoiling anything) will eventually lead to bloodshed. The antics of the young filmmakers are eventually discovered by the old man’s wife and that exposure leads to reveals of the old couple’s backstory as well as secrets they’ve kept over the years.
An Ode to Campy-Sexy-Stabby Flicks
‘X’s story and writing are very reminiscent of 70s & 80s horror slashers. It’s very unique in the sense that it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but still presents something very fresh and new. I found myself at times having feelings and emotions pop-up that are not typical in these types of movies. At the same time it never really deviates from what it is; a campy-sexy-stabby flick.
It’s a relatively short film so it doesn’t allow for a lot of exposition or character background. Ti West makes the most of it though not filling the movie out with long monologues or set-up. He keeps the characters basic yet organic; even though they are somewhat caricatures of stereo-typical horror players. It never quite reaches the level of unapologetic self-awareness, but it also doesn’t avoid absurdity either.
Day ‘n’ Nite
This film is one that truly showcases each actor’s range even with the limited run-time that it has. Mia Goth’s character Maxine drives the film as the coke-addict, fame-chasing protagonist who becomes the elderly couple’s main point of interest. Along with Goth is Brittany Snow’s character Bobby-Lynne and her boyfriend/co-star Jackson played by Kid Cudi. Both aspiring adult-film actors and stars of Wayne’s film. They’re all joined by the filmmaking couple of RJ and Lorraine played by Owen Campbell and Jenna Ortega. Rounding out the main cast is Stephen Ure as Howard; the old man and owner of the ranch.
Goth is actually pulling double duty in this one as she also plays Pearl, the old-woman and wife of Howard. A fact unknown to me until I looked up the cast on iMDB. Honestly she steals the show and exhibits incredible range making both characters completely believable. The rest of the cast also fit into their roles flawlessly. Most of the cast are established actors who bring a level of authenticity to the material. Snow, Kid Cudi, and Campbell in particular support the cast in a way I really haven’t seen them before. To compliment them, none of their appearances distract from the narrative even though they are the more recognizable stars.
A Love Letter to Horror-STANS
It’s clear from the start that Ti West is using films like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and FRIDAY THE 13th as inspiration here. From the very first shot of the film until the very end he keeps things familiar but also visually interesting. The movie begins with a very slow zoom with the camera exiting a barn to reveal more than just a basic farm-landscape. There seems to be a very intentional use of wide-shots and slow-pans to build suspense and help amplify tension. The style, much like the writing and story, doesn’t try to distract the audience. It allows for a simple, yet pleasing view of the world and the characters within it.
With it being a horror movie it doesn’t avoid gratuitous gore and nudity. Although the excess isn’t out of place given the subject matter, it will always be a bit of a turn-off for everyone but the Stan-iest of horror fans.
The biggest compliment I can give X is that its ability to seem unique comes from it’s simplicity and familiarity. I’m not the biggest fan of horror films myself; horror-boi Tom Bragg probably has the most refined taste among us CineBoiz. I was able to enjoy X because it never felt like it was trying too hard. Also it didn’t need to be absurd (outside of gratuitous nudity and gore) to keep me interested. It’s quick, simple, but also has unique enough story elements to not be completely predictable.
VERDICT: 4/5 Stars
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