Updated: Aug 11, 2022
Another Homage Film with Just Enough Twists to Satisfy
Score 7/10 - Recommend
Posted by Anthony DeRouen | July 13th, 2022
Synopsis: In 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, but when their reclusive, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast find themselves fighting for their lives.
"Homage" films are becoming dime a dozen these days. Paying homage is starting to feel like "I'm going to take your good idea and mix it with my decent idea." That's what X is - Texas Chainsaw Massacre and bits of other things that sounded cool on paper. X achieves the rare misalignment of critics praising it and fans walking away not fully entertained. A24, The studio behind the film, has built a reputation for putting out solid, distinctive horror flicks such as Hereditary, It Comes At Night and The Witch. X feels like it missed the mark.
Right off the bat the film starts off as basically every Texas Chainsaw Massacre film that's come before it. Whatever street cred Ti West had riding into this film dissipates when the camera reveals a collection of horny 20-something's driving in a beat up van in Texas. Really? This is not a homage, but a lazy rip-off. A cash grab. No effort was made to mix up the beginning and set a tone, as we are dropped unceremoniously into a Tobe Hooper movie. However, with expectations for this A24 vehicle firmly lowered, the rest of the movie is enjoyable if watching overwrought Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels is your thing.
The rest of the movie is enjoyable if watching overwrought Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels is your thing.
Ti West wants the audience to know there's going to be nudity and sex in his movie. Sadly he cannot execute a cinematic way of executing this while preserving the tension in the film. What we get are cringeworthy displays of wanton flesh that achieve little beyond showing actors simulating sex, in a scene simulating sex. You can fast forward through these scenes and not lost an ounce of narration, that's how shallow and pointless the director makes them. This isn't 1979; it's 2022 and unfiltered sex is a mouse-click away. You have to adjust for the times even if you're making a period piece. Based on audience scores this appears to be a problem with other viewers as well.
The rest of the film is good, surprisingly. Mia Goth is the standout here playing dual roles: the film's lead protagonist and antagonist. The make up effects are so well done I didn't realize it was the same actress until the credits rolled. The deaths start early and continue to the end. Without giving away spoilers I will credit Ti West with offering up some diversity here. Some were clearly predictable while others opened my eyes. Overall X doesn’t fall easily into arthouse or mainstream horror classification traps; Ti West treads the fine line between the two aesthetics to the film's benefit. You'll either laugh or be grossed out, and that's a fine mix to experience.
The older couple that owns the property our intrepid cast and crew visit are given plenty of screen time for character development, which is a plus. You are presented with the sense the type of film the kids are planning to make is generally frowned upon in the greater, conservative Texas area. It would be unfair to call these kids liberals, however. You want to believe they are on the path to making a breakthrough in the adult industry which makes the back half of the film meaningful. The director of the bunch alerts the crew this type of activity is not welcome, thus the property off the beaten path is necessary.
While thinking about this review I began to imagine how much better X would have been had Ti West not opted for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre beginning. By challenging the script early on the audience feels less comfortable and therefore more engaged. We have less to cling on which can only heighten our anxiety. The one big twist ( if you want to call it that) is the fact Ti West shot a second film alongside X that will serve as a prequel. The character of Pearl (played by Mia Goth in cased you missed it) was the highlight of the show and may serve to redeem this effort.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of my favorite composers turning in a haunting, visceral score. Tyler Bates effort is remarkable here and worth listening on it's own. Soundscapes are important to a horror film, through score, mixing, sound design, foley. Although Tyler is known for his action films (see Rambo and John Wick as most excellent examples) he also worked with Rob Zombie on the Halloween reboot, so there's some tangible experience to be found the dark, melodic chords.
You can rent X on Red Box for $1.99 or purchase it outright for $5.99 - that's a deal!