Among the most anticipated horror movies of 2022, Ti West’s collaboration with A24, X, sits near the top of the list. For the last several years, A24 has established itself as the production studio for elevated horror (Midsommar, The Witch, Saint Maud). Though it’s been a while since he made an outright horror movie, West has already helmed some standout genre movies (The House of the Devil, The Sacrament). Now X looks to fuse a homage to old-school slashers with a contemporary twist on the sexual politics of the subgenre. Critical response has been overwhelmingly positive.
In 1979, a group of young filmmakers arrive at an isolated rural farm to make the adult movie they hope will spark their careers. Their hosts, an eccentric elderly couple, have no idea what kind of movie is being filmed on their property. And when they find out, there’s going to be hell to pay over a nightmarish night.
X Balances Slow Burn Mood and Gross Out Gore
With his latest release, writer and director Ti West layers X pretty intricately for a slasher homage about adult filmmakers. Similar to his past work, West sets X at a slow burn pace that brims with atmosphere mixed with some nostalgia. In addition to its setting, West visually references The Texas Chainsaw Massacre several times. Generally, X includes shout outs to 70s exploitation movies in keeping with its subject matter. But these homages don’t dominate the story – West keeps them in the background. Unlike exploitation fare, the cinematography and camera work here is impressive. And the buildup here is masterful.
Despite its slow build, X ultimately delivers brutal gore and a handful of disturbing scenes.
Maybe the most impressive feat West achieves with X is keeping his endgame hidden for so long. We know this is a slasher movie and what’s coming. Despite its slow build, X ultimately delivers brutal gore and a handful of disturbing scenes. But West crafts something very different within a familiar narrative. You know something is wrong with its elderly couple but there’s some idiosyncratic beats to the story. As a result, the final act feels genuinely shocking and, at times, uncomfortable. The finale itself never seems obvious – and it’s highly satisfying.
X Finds New Ground in a Old Sub-Genre
Early in X, West makes his intent to subvert the slasher’s sexual politics clear. Throughout the movie, West intersperses television footage of a ‘fire and brimstone’ televangelist denouncing sexual depravity. There’s an interesting contrast between potential Final Girls that blurs lines of narrative expectations. At the heart of its story, X explores the hypocrisy around sex and sexuality. Our elderly couple – Harold and Pearl – are desperate to rekindle their intimacy but appalled at their young guests’ flaunting of their sexuality. Pearl alternately wants their youth and beauty while shaming it. The fact that Maxine and Pearl are both played by Mia Goth speaks to the movie’s subtext.
But X belongs to Mia Goth whose an absolute scene-stealer in her dual roles.
Despite its slasher roots, X has a deep cast and strong performances to anchors its story. Joining Mia Goth (Suspiria, Marrowbone) among our aspiring adult filmmakers are Martin Henderson (The Ring, The Strangers: Prey at Night). Brittany Snow (Prom Night), and hip hop artist Kid Kudi. In addition, Owen Campbell (Super Dark Times) plays the group’s wannabe avant-garde cameraman with rising star Jenna Ortega (You, Scream, The Babysitter: Killer Queen) along for the ride as his more reserved girlfriend. All of the cast are excellent and surprisingly likable in their respective roles. But X belongs to Mia Goth whose an absolute scene-stealer in her dual roles.
X Establishes Itself as one of the Best Slashers in Years
Three months into the year and we have a strong contender for a ‘Best of’ horror list for 2022. Arguably, X is likely to find itself discussed among classic horror movies. West has crafted a meticulously paced slasher that balances the requisite gore with a clever re-imagining of the Final Girl. Some audiences may find the slasher treads into some weird, gross, and uncomfortable territory. Certainly, you will find West’s idiosyncrasies all over the movie. But there’s no denying that this is a scary movie. And it’s one of the best slashers in years.