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‘X’: A grindhouse flick for a modern audience

| Thursday, March 31, 2022

Claire Kirner | The Observer

The latest film from Ti West and A24 is what I imagine it would look like if Tobe Hooper directed “Boogie Nights” instead of Paul Thomas Anderson. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “Boogie Nights” are not two films I ever thought that I would mention in the same review, yet here we are.

“X” follows a small group of adult filmmakers (Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Scott Mescudi, Martin Henderson, Britanny Snow, Owen Campbell) as they seek to make their next film. They hunker down at a rented guest house on a farm in backwoods Texas to make their film, all while trying to keep the creepy elderly couple that owns the property from finding out what they’re doing. As night falls, the blood begins to flow as someone begins to pick off the members of the film crew. That’s all I can say without spoiling the entire film.

The people who made “X” clearly love film. Their passion for the craft shines through in every carefully constructed frame of its 106-minute runtime. The director of the film the characters are shooting, RJ (Campbell) is clearly the voice of Ti West, discussing the creative choices that go into making a film — even discussing story arcs and subversions of audience expectations, amongst other tongue-in-cheek references to the fact that we are watching a horror film. RJ constantly discusses his dedication to the avant-garde and “X” reflects this unusual, experimental sensibility, particularly in its editing and use of both digital and film photography.

This film is Ti West’s love letter to ‘70s Grindhouse Cinema: low budget flicks filled with gore, sex, subversive and taboo subject matter — the lower tiers of society shot on glorious 16mm film. West displays clear reverence for his forebearers while also adding a stylish modern twist to the well-worn story of a group of people disappearing after visiting a remote location in the South.

“X” is everything that I think the modern slasher has forgotten it can be. Stylish, gritty, subversive and unapologetic, “X” stands heads and shoulders above any slasher flick in recent memory. There is no legacy slasher here; there is no pretense of the unstoppable killer lurking just out of frame. The characters are smart and likable, and the film gives no reason why they should die. In the eyes of the elderly couple, sex equals death. They represent the old wave of horror films clinging to a kind of classic morality. This belief is even manifest in the character of the old man, who can no longer engage in intimacy due to a cardiac condition. There is a sensitive rumination on the fears and frailty involved with getting older underneath the surface of “X,” but I feel West could have given it a bit more time. In contrast to the old couple’s dated beliefs, for the young film crew sex represents freedom, liberation from the oppressiveness of the past. This culture clash is at the heart of the film — old horror vs. new horror, the older generation vs. the youth and more importantly, the distrust they each hold for the other.

I can’t talk too much about the kills in “X,” but they are glorious. Many left me scratching my head trying to figure out how they pulled those effects off. The special effects work here is stunning, both in the gore effects and the old-age makeup used on the elderly couple.

A fresh, stylish slasher with a brain, a heart and most importantly a soul that challenges audience notions of what A24 horror is. “X” is exactly the shot of adrenaline that the Slasher genre needed in the wake of the recent glut of remakes and reboots of legacy franchises. Something tells me we’ll be seeing a lot more Grindhouse-inspired Slashers in the near future.

Film: “X”

Director: Ti West

Starring: Mia Goth, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson

If you like: “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1978), “The House of the Devil,” “Green Room”

Where to Watch: In Theaters

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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