Ever since the creation of man, the idea of desire has stuck with us. Every sense of direction we have comes from desire. All successes, all failures, our rights, our wrongs – derived from desire. There are many variables to this idea as it contains its own complexities. Tangible things can only subdue our sense of desire for so long. But when it comes to human connections, our own level of happiness, or even the most universal language on our planet – sex – the level of desire is unbound. Art is not an irregular medium to present these themes. However, a balance between the gratuitous and the prude is a hard balance to strike. Returning horror filmmaker Ti West presents the most balanced gratuitous fuckfest in recent years with A24’s X.
X follows a group of adult filmmakers going to a remote filming location in Texas. This movie is character forward with a wide array of personalities that all blend together. Additionally, a movie featuring as many characters as X are incapable of shining the light on all of its stars. Somehow, X is the outlier and gives every character its time in the sun.
Even though X is a relatively long slasher picture, it fills its runtime with energy and poise. At no point did I ever feel like the engine wasn’t at full throttle. X‘s most quiet moments are its most tense ones. And X‘s loudest moments are…reserved for this (let your imagine run wild with what I mean by that). A general complaint I’ve seen is how predictable it is. Now, most predictable horror movies’ general issue is its characters. Typical slashers will have characters say “lets go swim in the [dangerous] pond” as the slasher villain paints the town red. With X, every decision a character makes is unpredictable. If X becomes predictable, it’s because West intentionally tells you what will happen next. It’s like a sick game, reminiscent of the phone call scene from Taxi Driver, essentially asking the viewers if they can stomach what’s next.
What makes X so interesting is its editing choices. Without it, you’d probably have a run-of-the-mill smut slasher. West and the accompanying crew aren’t afraid to essentially break the fourth wall and tell you “hey, look at THIS”. As if every moment, every word is just as important as the last. Even Martin Henderson’s character Wayne has a particular line early on that comes full circle near the end. Most films would crumble at the idea of giving themselves away so freely. But there’s a sense of control and balance found in X that keeps it driving.
What I think will be X‘s only part that’ll deter some viewers is how seismic of a shift the movie takes about halfway through. As mentioned above, the movie practically tells you to strap in, but the whiplash between the first half and the second half is insane. It’s a hard transition to buy into, and I guarantee most people who watch this will see this shift as its only downfall. The film hints at this frequently throughout the beginning but is a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment. It didn’t affect me, but I know other moviegoers who couldn’t stand it. With that said, for me to be nitpicky with an issue that isn’t even mine goes to show how strong of a film X is.
Throughout X there’s a televangelist program that is playing across any TV shown in the movie. In every instance, the preacher is denouncing the freedom of one’s body and is essentially saying one’s autonomy is God’s and God’s alone. As you see the movie progress and see how certain stories align, you see the same idea regarding desire. One’s desire is equitable to one’s absolution. Whether it’s a porn actress being absolved for their shame or a Christian being absolved for their sins it’s always done through the same means – sex. How sex is portrayed is what differs on screen. But what makes gratuitous sex so different from being prude when the final product is the same? (However, there is a definitive right or wrong through this film’s lens, as the more prude people are the ones doing the killing.)
X is a particularly visceral look at pornography through the lens of a time when prudeness was the norm. All performances across the tight array of actors and actresses are great in their own way. Ti West’s return to filmmaking was a welcomed and brilliant one. Since more movies are being made within the X universe (kind of weird to type that), we’ll luckily get to see more of this in foreseeable future. If you’re coming to this review only looking for the score and now digging through the word jenga I typed above, let me go on here to say that X is a mighty fine good time deserving of the theatrical experience. – Jacob Mauceri
X is now playing in theaters.