The slasher is perhaps one of the most complex and grossly misunderstood genres under the horror umbrella. It’s earned a bit more of the latter as it represents a ton of movies that put grizzly murders and kill scenes over story, on top of showcasing a preference for female/queer/minority victims as opposed to more traditional male-type victims (although there’s plenty of them as well).
And yet, when a good slasher shows its teeth and goes beyond the blood and gore to say something (without sacrificing the bloodletting, mind you), it can go leagues beyond anything on the market. Ti West‘s X is one such slasher, and it is a masterful example of how special the genre can be.
X follows a group of porn filmmakers and performers as they set off to a remote farm in rural Texas to shoot their own little skin flick in the hopes of making it big. The film’s producer, Wayne (played by Martin Henderson), finds an old couple that’s willing to let them stay in a little wooden guest house on their land. Problem is, the old couple have no idea why this group of young-ish people are out there in the first place, and they don’t seem the type you want to catch on their bad side.
The focus on porn performers, who take up most of the small cast, is an interesting one. West—who wrote and produced the movie as well—uses this to address the role. These types of characters play in most slasher films.
It’s usually the case that the porn performer or the hyper sexed-up character is defined primarily by the libido. Character development comes second, if at all. This is the character that secures his or her death by being so horny that they try to have sex in dark and dirty places the guy with the sharp knife is most definitely holed up in waiting for that very thing to happen.
Sex-crazed character gets killed, perhaps by way of genital or sexually-charged mutilation, and so their job is done, which is to remind the audience that intense fixations on sex can only lead to bad things.
X attacks that note, aggressively. It shreds it to pieces in favor of propping up a set of characters that take ownership over their chosen profession while championing their right to freely chose what to do with their bodies. The argument isn’t, “Fuck you, I can do what I want, morality be damned.” It’s more, “What we’re doing is labeled as immoral by people that choose not to understand our life choices and so we stand against their unfair judgments.”
The message comes across clearly thanks to West’s unwavering approach to not just allowing the erotic aspects of the plot to shine through but also by giving his characters a chance to express what they represent so honestly. This is perhaps best appreciated through the characters of Maxine (Mia Goth), Pearl (also played by Goth), and Lorraine (Jenna Ortega).
Maxine is set to be the star of the porn film, which is called The Farmer’s Daughter and seems to have only one male lead called Jackson (Scott Mescudi). Lorraine is a boom operator that struggles with her values while making the porno. Maxine and Lorraine have a particular scene in which their differing views on the kind of movie they’re making clash and it’s one of the most important in the entire movie.
Without giving much away, the relationship between Maxine and Lorraine is fascinating because of how unsteady it is. It leads to places that defy expectations, going for things that complicate the debate over moral values and personal freedoms without having inhibitions of any kind.
Of course, this is all put into perspective with the character of Pearl, the old lady that lives on the farm and that starts observing the performers from the shadows. She represents a kind of repressed mentality that ultimately leads her to view the main group as people underserving of the freedoms they embody.
It’s no mystery that the old couple eventually become X‘s slashers, but West does a phenomenal job of once more going against the grain to develop them as fully-fledged characters, with arcs of their own. This is where the movie stands tall above recent slasher fare. Its villains aren’t out to hurt by violent means alone. They want to get their point across too, twisted as it is.
This leads to a series of kill sequences that more than earn the slasher classification. The violence in X is brutal and, more disturbingly, inventive. West goes out of his way to not just become an homage to movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), a movie that clearly inspired the production. Instead, he finds in his influences the means to create something that’s genuinely different from anything else out there. The very violent killings are evidence of that and their visceral enough to become some of the best new examples of great slasher bloodletting.
The same goes for the movie’s soundtrack, camera work, and editing. There’s a bit of Quentin Tarantino in West’s approach to X, with everything being somewhat larger than life without becoming absurdly cartoonish. There’s a logic to the decisions that made it to the screen and they point to the makings of a truly great slasher movie.
With an after credits trailer for a kind of origin story focusing on Pearl, the old killer lady but in her younger days, and talk of the story aiming for a trilogy of sorts, X is becoming an exciting new fixture on the horror landscape. It delivers on all fronts and achieves something not many slashers can lay claim to: it makes you think about the why behind the killings instead of just the killings.