Porn stars. 1970s sexual liberation. An old creepy farmhouse in rural Texas. A perfect recipe for your usual slasher, but X is far smarter than your typical gore-fest. X follows the journey of a group of amateur filmmakers and wannabe porn stars as they travel to rural Texas to make a skin flick ‘The Farmer’s Daughter,’ in a farmhouse rented from an elderly married couple. However, what is meant to be their break into stardom soon turns into a total bloodbath, as their filming soon attracts the unwanted attention of the elderly homeowners.
The slasher genre is defined by the same set of essential ingredients, with the plot often built around a group of people being stalked and murdered by a psychopath. But X has original ideas that make the film unique. Firstly, the film takes a surprisingly long time to move into slasher territory, allowing for an effective build-up of tension and a particular edge-of-your-seat scene involving an alligator and the protagonist with the ultimate “X factor,” Maxine (played by Mia Goth). The audience also learns the backstory of Pearl (a phenomenal dual performance from Mia Goth), the mysterious and reclusive older woman who takes an interest in the scandalous goings-on. Maxine is headstrong and assured of her future as a Hollywood ‘star’, while Pearl is a wispy ghost of a woman, reminiscing on her youthful beauty. Here West could have easily presented the character of Pearl as pathetic, or stirred up by an inscrutable demonic fervour, but he instead lets the audience get to know Pearl and her ornery husband, Howard, before the two start chasing the crew around the farm, which is what ultimately makes Howard and Pearl’s pent-up fury all the more unsettling.
X stands out among recent slashers, as West is genuinely interested in analyzing the clash that takes over the farm, not just between old and young but between the repressed and the liberated, as the carnage the couple carry out is motivated by their own confused feelings about sex. Set against the backdrop of the booming home video market of the late 1970s, where the film became readily available for home-viewing with VCRs first hitting the market in 1975. Set a year after the release of “Debbie Does Dallas”, the most successful video release of a porn film of all time and a highlight of the so-called ‘golden age’ of home video porn, the protagonist’s “American dream” is therefore not entirely unreasonable. Yet at its heart, X is a film about freedom and sexuality, not porn. West cleverly chooses to subvert the usual ‘final girl trope’, through the contrasting characters of Maxine and Lorriane (Jenna Ortega), who are the epitome of sexuality vs purity and innocence. Rather than the often typical slasher ending, X’s female characters and chosen final girl have far more autonomy and do not shy away from their enjoyment of expressing their sexuality and the career possibilities that porn can offer them.
X is a love letter to the slasher film genre, a movie within a movie that seeks to tackle the strict relationship between sex, violence, desire and rage. As the poor sheriff who discovers the bloody scene at the end of the film states, X makes for “one fucked up horror movie”, which pays homage to the classics without risk of being labelled a rip-off.
X is out in cinemas now
by Eleanor Brady
Eleanor (she/her) lives and works in London and enjoys writing and bingeing the period pieces section on Netflix in her spare time. Her favourite films include Vertigo, The Graduate, Pretty In Pink and Amelie.