X (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): Sleazy, creepy, and bloody

“X”, one of Ti West’s two films which came out in last year, is an interesting juxtaposition of sleazy porn-making and creepy horror with some bloody moments. Although this attempt is not exactly fresh or original, it is still engaging in terms of mood and details to be savored, and it is certainly another good genre work to be added to West’s solid filmography.

After the prologue scene which announces us a bit of its ending to us in advance, the movie, which is incidentally set in Texas,1979, begins its story with a young porn actress named Maxine “Max” Minx (Mia Goth), who will soon go outside with her sleazy boyfriend/producer Wayne Gilroy (Martin Henderson). They are going to make their latest porn along with a few cast and crew members of theirs, and Wayne has already got a certain remote place where they are going to shoot that porn.

Besides Max and Wayne, there are only four cast and crew members. While Max’s fellow two porn performers Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi) and Bobby-Lynne Parker (Brittany Snow) are eager to have another fun time as your typical porn performer couple, R.J. Nichols (Owen Campbell), a lad who has worked as a director for Wayne, is ready to be more artistic in his porn-making along with his girlfriend Lorraine “Raine” Day (Jenna Ortega), but Raine seems not so comfortable with participating in his porn-making as his only crew member.

As these six persons are going to their destination, there come a few bad signs as you can expect from any horror flick. When they drop by a local shop, the atmosphere is not exactly friendly to say the least, and there is also a gruesome case of roadkill which will make you cringe for good reasons. When they finally arrive at their destination later, we see another bad sign: a old and shabby farmhouse which feels almost empty as being shrouded in lots of creepy mood.

Wayne soon meets an old man who is the owner of the house, and, though their encounter is not exactly pleasant, the old man subsequently leads Wayne and his cast and crew members to a guesthouse where they are supposed to stay. Wayne did not tell the old man about what he and his cast and crew members are going to do, but that will not be much of a problem because, well, the old man got paid anyway.

As they immediately embark on shooting their porn in the guesthouse, we get some amusing moments involved with their porn-making. While RJ is eagerly handling his cheap camera, Jackson and Bobby-Lynne show some, uh, physical dedication in front of the camera, and everything seems to be going pretty well for everyone as they are ready to move onto the next scene where Max will perform along with Jackson.

In the meantime, we come to sense that there is something about Max which somehow affects not only the old man but his mostly silent wife, whom Max happens to meet while she is having some free time for herself. Because we already saw this old woman watching Max from the distance, we cannot help but feel uncomfortable as observing their brief encounter, and that disturbing feeling only grows further when Max goes all the way for performing her sex scene later. During one voyeuristic moment, her vibrant youth and beauty are strikingly contrasted with how old and ugly the old woman looks, and we are more unnerved as wondering what may happen next.

When the night eventually comes, the movie dutifully follows the footsteps of many of its senior slasher horror films such as, yes, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) and “Friday the 13th” (1980), but it also takes some time in making extra character development before that. At one point, Raine impulsively decides to try to do a sex scene, and her boyfriend understandably opposes to that, but everyone else has no problem with that. She is surely aware of how exploitative porn-making can be, but she knows the risk anyway, and she is willing to show more of herself in front of the camera just like Max and Bobby-Lynne.

During its last act, the movie gleefully wields extreme violence and gore, but it did its expected job better than most of slasher horror flicks out there. Because its broad but colorful main characters are established well in advance, there are enough dramatic impacts as they are dispatched one by one (Is this spoiler?), and West effectively delivers them on the screen. In addition, the movie has several nice surprises involved with the very twisted sides of the old couple, and I also like a number of small but notable references on other classic horror films including “The Shining” (1980).

Under West’s competent direction, his main cast members are effective in their respective roles. While Scott Mescudi, who also served as one of the executive producers of the film, Martin Henderson, and Owen Campbell have a little fun with their sleazy male characters, Jenny Ortega, who is no stranger to slasher horror film considering her recent appearance in “Scream” (2022), and Brittany Snow also have each own moment to shine, and Mia Goth, who has been more prominent since “Suspiria” (2018) and “High Life” (2018), is simply terrific as deftly going back and forth between two very different appearances throughout the film.

On the whole, “X” is an enjoyable horror flick to be appreciated for its good mood, storytelling, and performance, and you will have some expectation on what West did in his very next film “Pearl” (2022), which is incidentally a prequel to “X”. Like West’s previous films including “The House of the Devil” (2009) and “The Innkeepers”, it just wants to have some fun in its small playground, and it surely did its job well in my inconsequential opinion.

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