Writer’s note: Light spoilers ahead for X.
Movie Review: X
By Eric Hughes
March 24, 2022
My first thought to myself - alert, energized and to be sure alive, me - as I exited the theater after a watch of the new slasher film, X, was: Is horror having a moment right now, in 2022?
Consider this: Among the new movies making a splash at South by Southwest in Austin this month were a pair of A24 slasher films - X, which this column will discuss, and Bodies Bodies Bodies. Consider this, too: A new Scream movie was released in theaters in January, was generally received warmly and had such a profound effect on me, it would seem, that it drove me to write a new movie review for the first time since the start of Obama’s second term.
And, who knows, maybe before the year is done we’ll be spoiled by the release of X’s already-in-post prequel, a movie written and filmed so discreetly under the cloak of COVID that the surprise release of its teaser trailer during a Q&A for X at South by Southwest shocked attendees.
Speaking of COVID, which has killed about a million of us in the United States alone: After two long years of it, is it not inconceivable that some of us would find sweet solace in watching some crazy ass shit?
Enter X, an inventive new horror movie which breaks the mold of A24 horror - Midsommar, Hereditary and The Witch spring to mind - and Ti West horror - The House of the Devil, namely - by not taking itself too seriously and leaning into disturbing chaos much sooner than anticipated. It’s a satisfying blend of comedy and genuine suspense - two elements that are hard to come by these days, paired together like that - and was a joy to experience in a packed theater.
X’s premise is pretty straightforward: In 1979 Texas, a film cast and crew load into a van and embark on a drive to a rural farm property outside of Houston with intentions of making a pornographic movie. Upon their arrival, though, they have an unusual run-in with the property’s elderly owners who also live onsite, and as day turns to night, they find themselves at risk of losing their lives.
A24 attracts a dedicated but small fan base, so I doubt X will permeate the zeitgeist the way that a movie like Scream did back in 1996. That said, Scream is the closest comparison I can think of in terms of the fresh concepts that X brings to the slasher. Not only is X shot beautifully - even the opening frame of the movie was something I’ve never seen and would make many a movie enthusiast beam with pride - but the film pays homage to past independent horror movies while also presenting an original story replete with knives, pistols, shotguns and also an alligator.
And with those multiple weapons and an aquatic beast at its disposal, X at times can be absurdly gory. The first death of the movie is prolonged and violent - I think to drive home the bloodthirst of the killer, whose “reveal” and method of murder surprised me a great deal. Then, due to the way the movie is edited together, a death sometime after that is literally impossible to avoid seeing - coincidentally, or perhaps intentionally, it involves eyes.
That aside, X is also quite comical. I excitedly laughed quite a few times - some sight gags, some turns of phrase among the film crew, even the suddenness of one of the deaths near the movie’s climax had me and practically the entire theater howling. X’s humor - including, unexpectedly, the filmed sex, which was mostly done up comedically - added real levity amid the carnage.
The gang of protagonists - six in all - was refreshingly likable. Jenna Ortega plays a very small role here but she continues her 2022 hot streak of notable performances (Scream, The Fallout). Other standouts for me included Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi, seen here playing a porn actor named Jackson Hole), Brittany Snow (also a porn actor, but a more conservatively named Bobby-Lynne) and Mia Goth, who played multiple characters in X, a fact which floored me when I saw her name associated to two characters in the credits.
Like I mentioned, Ti West has already shot X’s prequel. He considers X to be an homage to independent horror, and the prequel - set decades prior to the events of X - is, as reported by the LA Times in discussing the film with West, a “demented” Disney movie. A third movie is also planned.
I’m looking forward with great interest to what this budding horror franchise - A24’s first - has in store. I can’t think of another new horror series that has generated this much goodwill from me so quickly out of the gate.
And we’re back to where we began: Is horror having a moment right now?