X (2022)

MARCH 20, 2021


Believe it or not, the only legitimate complaint I have about X is its title. It's perfect for the movie, yes, but it's annoying to say and downright impossible to Google without adding one of the cast members or that of writer/producer/director/co-editor Ti West. And that's fine for the cast, but I honestly worry that seeing his name might turn people off, as his films are an acquired taste (I myself have only liked two of the five previous ones I've seen) and will perhaps give them the wrong impression of what the movie is. And what it is is a bona fide, straight up slasher movie in the best traditions of both old (characters who like each other! A pre-cell phone existence! Nudity!) and new (it has something to say!).

No, it's not as fast paced as a Friday the 13th movie or something, but I think it perfectly finds the sweet spot between what the average horror fan might think of when they think of slasher movies, and what they might think of as a "Ti West movie." It does take a bit for the killing to start, but what's essential to note is that the movie never drags - I can't think of one thing I'd cut prior to the first kill scene. Everything that's there is character building, both for our hero group (the cast and very small crew of what they hope will be the next Debbie Does Dallas) and the villains, an elderly couple whose farm they are using for their masterpiece. So yes it might be slower paced than the usual hack n slash flick, but it's not slow like West's earlier work; I never felt I was watching something just to pad the runtime out, and that makes all the difference in the world.

(From here on out I'm going to assume you've seen the trailer, if not and you don't want anything else spoiled, turn back now!)

It's also quite suspenseful, because while we know the old lady is a killer, it's unclear for a while what the husband's deal is. We know he loves her and worries about her, but when it's clear something's "off" we aren't sure if he's trying to make sure she doesn't start killing people (i.e. something she has done before), or if he's going to be helping her do it. Hell for all we know he might not even be aware of her murderous tendencies. So when she goes missing and one of the group volunteers to help him look for her outside in the far end of their dark, swampy property, it's a great little mystery - are they BOTH in danger, or just our helpful porn star? And is the old man's reluctance for the guy to join him just his own way of trying to protect the kid, knowing he'll be a goner if his wife finds him first? It's a very smart call on West's part, and buys the movie's thin premise (it IS a slasher, so a complicated plot would be counterproductive) a lot of mileage most of its single killer brethren can't muster for themselves.

It also has the rare "two Final Girl" setup, in that it's clear Mia Goth is our main hero but there's also Jenna Ortega in the mix. With her newfound horror cred thanks to Scream 5 (which, spoiler, she survives) and her mousy demeanor making her feel like the would-be heroine of any other version of this story, it's legitimately suspenseful whenever she's in danger, because her survival odds are 50/50 as opposed to just about everyone else's (that the movie starts with a flash forward with the cops finding the bodies doesn't help, though it thankfully doesn't show who survived, if anyone). The last one I can really recall is the F13 remake, where Jared Padalecki's character was trying to save his sister but also had a love interest, making it hard to gauge which one would be the actual survivor.

Also working in its favor is a positive attitude toward sex, something you certainly don't find in a slasher all that much. I think a lot of the puritan "Sex = death" thing about old slashers was overwrought/unintentional and that the fact that the people who had sex ended up dead is because nearly EVERY CHARACTER ended up dead and sex was thrown in the mix to add to the inherent exploitation elements of the film. I mean if you look at the Friday the 13th movies, there's almost always a character who is defined by their inability to get laid (Shelly, Eddie, Vince, etc) and they ended up just as dead as everyone else, so it's a rather silly "rule" if you ask me. But here we get a monologue about how our bodies ultimately betray us and how we should use them to feel good while we still can (in fact, it's an important part of the plot though explaining why would be spoiler-y), and also that we can't choose who we are attracted to, only with whether or not we do something about that attraction. It's weirdly refreshing to hear in this kind of movie, where even with the exceptions to the virgin rule and my own eye-rolling at the idea that it's an intentional message, sex does seem to be frowned upon in one way or another. Here it's celebrated as it should be!

Oh and you won't know it at the time, but the movie has one of the greatest bits of foreshadowing in horror history. When you watch it again you'll know what I mean, it happens pretty early (if you don't plan to watch again, I hope you just have a good memory and realize that there is a literal sign pointing to someone's specific fate).

West and Goth have already shot a prequel film, one I'm kind of curious about but also can't help but feel it will diminish some of the impact of this one (again, can't explain without spoiling) given the nature of its villain. Given the low box office turnout for this one (booo!) I assume it'll just end up VOD instead of theatrical (maybe limited? I doubt I'll be able to see it at the AMC with Nicole Kidman telling me how much we all need to be there, at any rate), but either way I'll definitely check it out, if mostly out of curiosity instead of excitement. But the real takeaway here is that West's critics need not worry about his usual style holding this one back; he "understood the assignment" as the kids say. And now I just have to pity whoever casts Ortega in *their* slasher movie, as they now have to live up to two modern standouts in the genre.

What say you?



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