A24 have established themselves as mastered of horror over the years and they show no signs of slowing down with the release of X, a film that incorporates elements and homages to traditional slasher films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The film is set in 1970s Texas and follows the cast and crew of a pornographic film, led by the ferocious leading lady, Maxine (Mia Goth) and her producer boyfriend, Wayne (Martin Henderson). When the group arrive at their barn filming location, it becomes clear that the old couple who own the main house are not quite what they seem and what follows is a slew of gruesome murders and violence galore.
The film is written and directed by Ti West, who has become prolific within the horror world. West definitely has a brilliant eye for direction as X thrives on the distinct vision that beautiful style that serves as a homage to previous Texan horrors, while also subverting the tropes associated with such films. Protagonist Maxine is the perfect example of this as she is unashamed in her sexuality, while also displaying a fearless attitude, a polar opposite description of many female horror protagonists that have come before her. The biggest trope that West seeks to explore is the morality of sexuality. For decades in horror, sex has equated to death for many characters, namely in horror franchises such as Friday the 13th which is full of young people who are slain, typically after engaging in sexual activity. West uses X as a means to discuss this topic and question whether sexuality is morally wrong and what that means. West is undoubtedly an extremely talented writer and has a brilliant way of blending different types of personalities in a natural and engaging way. However, with X, the downside is in the motivation of the film’s villains as it isn’t delved into that much, and what information we are given doesn’t seem to be believable or understandable considering what actions they commit throughout the film. It is such a shame as providing a better backstory with more meaning behind the old couple would bring X to the level of other modern horror masterpieces such as Jordan Peele’s genre-defining Get Out.
With such a heavy emphasis on its lead character, Maxine, it was imperative that West cast an actor who is more than capable of pulling off a layered performance with ease. Mia Goth is the perfect choice, as she has been an integral part of the horror genre for years with supporting turns in films like Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness, Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria, and Clare Denis’ High Life. What makes Goth such a brilliant actress is her ability to adapt to any role. Although she has become a staple in horror specifically, the films themselves could not be any more different in terms of characterisation and style. In X, Goth is able to further showcase her range as aspiring pornstar, Maxine. Maxine believes that she is destined for fame and fortune and is willing yo do whatever it takes to get there. Goth is nothing short of phenomenal, and even with the shortcomings of the script, the audience still wants Maxine to succeed in thwarting the killer’s plans and wants her to stop them. X gives Goth the leading role that she deserves after years of being placed in support and it is a credit to her talent and range that she has been able to breathe life in such a fantastic character that has plenty of agency.
While this is definitely Mia Goth’s film, X also boasts an incredibly impressive cast with Brittany Snow and Scott Mescudi in particular providing excellent turns as pornstars, Bobby-Lynne and Jackson. Both make use of the time they have onscreen and West relies on Snow’s beautiful vocal talents as she provides a great rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” in a scene that brings unity and peace for the group before tragedy unknowingly befalls them. Mescudi is charismatic as Jackson and has one of the most intense scenes in the film as he helps Howard (Stephen Ure) look for the latter’s wife, Pearl.
One of the film’s strongest elements is the cinemtography by Eliot Rockett. Inspired by porn films and slasher films of the 1970s, Rockett brilliantly incorporates vintage style filming when it comes to shooting the pornographic scenes. It brings a layer of authenticity and allows the audience to feel immersed in the world that West has created. The heavy use of blood is also contrasted with the minimal, natural landscape that surrounds the barn and the use of minimal locations allows Rockett to create that feeling of claustrophobia and entrapment for the audience.
X is certainly innovative and distinctive in its style and characterisation, but at times this comes at the cost of the plot and villain motivations which doesn’t come across clear or believable. However, it cannot be denied that Mia Goth is an absolute tour de force and is truly one of the best actors working in the horror genre. Showing her ability to lead a film and keep the viewer gripped, Goth’s performance is filled with grit, fearlessness and a depth that has come to define the roles she plays.
What did you think of X? Let me know in the comments below!