The eternal debate about the depiction of sex and violence in movies continues in 2022. Some want to return to the Code days, where sex was self-regulated out of Hollywood in favor of innuendo. Others, including some infamous international filmmakers, push the boundaries. Yet a brief era during the 1970s led some to believe that real sex and cinema could co-exist. For director Ti West, this window into the past allows him to craft a genuinely thrilling and upsetting horror feature. As the title X suggests, the explicit and violent film finds its footing in the visual exploitation of bodies, both dead and alive.
Set in 1979, X follows a small production of a pornographic film. For Wayne Gilroy (Martin Henderson), the venture promises to earn him loads of money. He brings two girls from his strip club, Max Minx (Mia Goth) and Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow). They bring along fellow actor Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi), aspiring filmmaker RJ (Owen Campbell), and RJ’s girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega). However, when they arrive on the site that Wayne rented, it appears the local residents have far more secrets than the crew has bargained for.
The collaboration between West and Goth turns X into a Bona fide sensation. West expertly handles the tone and pace of the film. Embracing his trademark “slow burn” tension, allows the second half of the film to become a gnarly experience. West handles the transitions between character-driven horror and genuinely witty exchanges at the drop of a hat. While West’s previous films were never poorly made, X gives him the spotlight to shine a light on his progression as a filmmaker.
To complement West’s direction, Goth provides the film with an all-time horror performance. She brings heartache and ambition to the screen as Max. She’s a girl who will do anything to get out of her life of anonymity. She refuses to suffer the indignity that has been her life. This monomania manifests itself uniquely, making Max far more than your typical final girl. Yet Goth provides a second layer to the film that will add to X‘s lore in the years to come.
While everyone else in the cast does an admirable job, Snow stands out as the ditzy star of the film. She embraces the raw sexuality of the role, but Snow adds considerable humor to every scene. While X devolves into madness, she delivers many of the funniest line deliveries of the year. This helps put the audience at ease and makes X that much more effective when West makes the turn.
Aesthetically, X radiates grindhouse energy that cannot be ignored. Heavily influenced by the style of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the film nails the distinct costumes of the era and the dinginess of the farm. Makeup work in horror films often finds itself underappreciated. Yet X features some of the best makeup effects of the past five years, seamlessly adding elderly makeup and delivering on the violent effects. The extreme visuals help X stand out among the many films that have failed to earn their identity.
X will certainly not be for everybody, but it showcases the skill and craft of an amazing crew. While many films will age poorly from the Covid era, X will deserve a spot among the best of the decade. Raw, emotional, upsetting, and unafraid to take its audiences to grotesque places, X is one of the very best films of the year.