'X' Is as Lurid as Actual Porn

Directed by Ti West

Starring Mia Goth, Scott Mescudi (Kid Cudi), Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Martin Henderson, Owen Campell

BY Alex HudsonPublished Mar 14, 2022

There's often something a bit porn-y about slashers: lurid, visceral films with a flimsy plot that serves primarily to bridge one graphic scene to the next. There's a horror subgenre referred to as "torture porn" for good reason.

X makes that connection extremely literal, as a low-budget pornographic movie shoot turns bloody on a Texas farm in 1979. A group of actors and filmmakers, led by sweet-talking producer Wayne (Martin Henderson doing his best Matthew McConaughey impression, alright alright alright), arrive at a farm where they've rented out the boarding house as some kind of proto Airbnb.

They quickly get down to fuckin', as Vietnam vet Jackson (Scott Mescudi a.k.a. Kid Cudi), the outspoken hedonist Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and aspiring "it girl" Maxina (Mia Goth) turn the quaint farm into a sexual playground for a film called The Farmer's Daughters. RJ (Owen Campell) is the director who wants to turn porn into art, while his quiet girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) holds the boom mic.

X's opening half is an artful exercise in contrasts, as the natural beauty of the farm and the free-spirited pleasure-seeking of the leads is juxtaposed against a foreboding score and an undercurrent of dread about what's coming. There's a lurking sense of unease long before a drop of blood gets spilled. The elderly couple living in the main house give off weird vibes — especially after the husband greets them with a shotgun — and some beautiful camerawork creates tension. An overhead shot of Maxine swimming is particularly stunning, and the stakes are raised by strong performances all around.

Things get much, much less subtle in X's second half, as the conflict between the young porn stars and the elderly couple comes to a head. The film addresses fears about mortality and sexual jealousy — although X's preoccupation with the unattractiveness of senior bodies quickly grows repetitive, as the film repeatedly asks its audience to be grossed out by the sight of wrinkled skin.

After such a strong start, X's back half is a one-note affair. I kept waiting for some sort of a twist or big revelation that would bring some deeper meaning to the grisly horror — but it never came. The retro horror aesthetic is inviting and the acting is excellent, even if X never quite scratches beyond the surface for something deeper.
(VVS Films)

Latest Coverage