Logline: In 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, but when their reclusive, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast find themselves fighting for their lives.
This film was both written and directed by Ti West. You may know Mr. West from such indie horror films as The House of the Devil (2009), The Sacrament (2013), or his television work on Wayward Pines (2016), The Exorcist (2017), and Them (2021).
Mr. West has a very loyal fanbase, but I don’t necessarily count myself a member of that group. In fact, as The Captain and I discussed a few days ago, neither of us is a huge Ti West fan. To be more specific, we both agree that his films are very hit-or-miss, and, for me at least, they’ve been mostly miss.
That is not to say I dislike everything he does or that I don’t respect his work. In fact, I have a lot of respect for his style and the fact that he started working in very low-budget indie horror and has kept that same sensibility, despite working on major film and television productions.
Since this one did not have a script available (as it is an indie horror, and an A24 release to boot) I had to do a film review instead of a script review.
Before we start, I did want to say a few things about this film:
First, this one is only playing in theaters, which I found very surprising. I would imagine an R-rated horror about an adult film shoot gone wrong would post better figures if it was a VOD release, or if it were to premiere on a streaming service like Shudder or HBO Max.
I went to see this on opening night, and there were only about four other people in the theater with me. The fact that I live in a college town and attended an evening showing on opening night that only managed to net five people does not bode well for this film.
According to the box office numbers from this past weekend, X disappointed. And, after seeing the film, I can’t say this comes as a surprise.
Second, the idea of a horror film about an adult film shoot gone wrong is not exactly a new one, as some entertainment news outlets have claimed.
Third, according to the Trivia Section on IMDB and other news outlets, Ti West is planning this film to be the first in a franchise and has already shot the prequel, titled “Pearl” which he is currently finishing up editing.
I wanted to make a specific note of this, as up-and-coming horror writers and filmmakers should probably shy away from plotting out a whole horror franchise until they get their first few horror specs sold.
Now, you can certainly leave room for a sequel, and it’s always a good idea to have an idea for a follow-up ready to go, just in case, but, in this reader’s opinion, your time would be better spent focusing on writing a solid, original horror script and seeing where that takes you.
With that all out of the way, let’s get into my thoughts on X (2022)!
The story, as mentioned previously above, follows a young film crew who are shooting a pornographic film at a ranch owned by a strange older couple. However, when their ultra-conservative hosts realize what is going on, there is hell to pay.
The Cinematography – As you will see in the What Needed Work section below, I think Ti West is a strong director, but not a great writer.
There are some incredibly creepy shots and the film looks great.
The way the camera lingers on its subjects and scenes instead of cutting frequently gives the film a very voyeuristic quality, which is fitting considering the subject matter.
For example, there is a very effective scene early in the movie where one of the performers goes skinny-dipping in the lake.
We first see an alligator hungrily eyeing its prey. Then, we get a bird’s eye view of the lake, as the alligator slithers into the lake and begins making its way towards the oblivious young woman.
This scene is static for the most part, and the tension builds as the alligator gets ever closer to our unsuspecting heroine.
There are several shots like this, especially in the first half of the film, which I really enjoyed and had me on the edge of my seat.
No Jump Scares – As you all know, I hate jump scares and, unfortunately, we are inundated with them in most modern horror films.
So it was extremely refreshing for this reviewer to see a well-shot horror film that didn’t rely on jump scares to startle the audience.
What Needed Work
The Opening – We have a generic opening that you have all seen a million times before. A grizzled police officer walks through a bloody crime scene and mutters “Jesus Christ…” before we cut to 24 hours earlier.
This is such a lazy way to open your horror film, and in no way did it connect to the rest of the story, it didn’t add anything to the plot, the characters, or the themes, and could have been dropped entirely and we would not have lost anything.
The Characters – The characters in this are all one-note and wholly unlikable.
This was particularly disappointing, as we are never really given a reason that our characters are shooting an adult film, why each character is working with this sleazy producer in the first place (Marin Henderson – doing his best Matthew McConaughey impression), why they chose this particular farm to shoot at, or who any of these characters are.
In fact, the murderous old couple is more fully realized and developed than any of our so-called “protagonists”.
The Final Girl – Ti West made a very strange choice with his final girl in this one. One of the most unlikable characters, Mia Goth’s Maxine (I had to look up the character name because that is how poorly each character is defined) is our final girl.
This isn’t really a spoiler, because you will be rooting for all of the characters to die a horrible death, but I was waiting for her to meet a particularly gruesome fate.
See, Maxine has no real characterization in this film, other than that she wants to be a star because, as Maxine states repeatedly, “She deserves it.”
If Maxine had started out this way, but learned something, grew as a character, or changed in any measurable way during her journey, this might be acceptable. However, she does not grow as a character, or a person, at all during the runtime of the film.
In fact, Maxine is actually asleep for a majority of the third act “action” and, when she gets involved, Maxine hardly reacts upon finding out her friends, boyfriend, and co-stars have been murdered violently.
And this is the person we were supposed to be rooting for?
There is a little stinger at the end (not after the credits, just at the very end of the film) that gives a bit more backstory to her character, but it just made me roll my eyes and didn’t change my opinion of her at all.
It involves the priest on the television set in the old couple’s home who is in the middle of a fiery sermon. Basically, it was Ti West saying:
Hey, I directed The Sacrament, remember? You should check out The Sacrament.
Here’s a tip: Don’t bother. The Sacrament isn’t very good, either.
MILD SPOILERS OVER
Everyone else in the film is just cannon fodder and annoying cannon fodder at that.
Pacing Issues – This film is a slow burn in the worst way possible. Even though we jump right in the van with our filmmakers and cast as they are headed to the farm, it takes forever for anything to happen.
And, despite the fact that we spend a lot of time with these characters in the lengthy introduction, they are all poorly realized and have very little substance.
Tone – This thing was a mess tonally. I am not sure if Ti West was going for a horror comedy, but it was not horrific, and it certainly was not funny.
There is only one scene towards the end that is so absurdist and out of place that I smirked.
In fact, there is even a scene in the middle of the film where one of the characters begins to sing and we get this weird music-video-like montage. It was extremely jarring and should never have been filmed, let alone made it into the final cut.
Upon further research, the character that does the singing is Bobby-Lynne, played by Brittany Snow, who you may recognize from the Pitch Perfect movies. Maybe in her contract it stated that she had to be featured in a musical number or something silly like that, but the note stands: this scene should have died on the editing room floor.
Character Decisions – Yes, characters make stupid decisions which I don’t think we should excuse, but there is one decision in particular about halfway through the film that made me check out of the film entirely.
I won’t spoil anything, but the decision comes out of nowhere, makes zero sense for the character making the decision, and is a conflict that would easily be resolved if any of the characters in the film acted like a human being.
My issue wasn’t the decision (which, again, made no sense) so much as it was the fact that it blows up and causes the group to splinter, when, in reality, a two-second conversation would have easily resolved this.
What I mean to say is that there is a huge moment of artificial conflict created solely so that we could get our characters to split up and be killed off in the third act.
This is lazy writing and, as up-and-coming writers and filmmakers, we need to do better than this to have our projects stand out from the crowd.
The Kills – A staple of the slasher genre, unique and gory kills are paramount to setting your slasher apart.
Unfortunately, these kills were bland at best and you’ve seen them all before.
We even have several shotgun kills where a character is just blown off-screen with a shotgun blast.
It was really disappointing, as I feel like this film could have, at the very least, delivered some spectacular gore to make itself stand out.
The Themes – No spoilers, but when you discover the reason for the killings, it is laughably dumb. It hardly makes sense, let alone provides a reason for the brutality we’ve just witnessed and the reveal made me roll my eyes.
I kept waiting for another reveal, or some piece of information that would make any part of this film make any sort of sense. However, no further “surprises” came and I was left scratching my head.
If I had any faith whatsoever in Mr. West’s writing abilities, I would consider that maybe he wanted to make a statement on modern sexuality, unrealistic beauty standards, on the church vs. the porn industry, or something else equally worthy of exploration.
However, I don’t believe Mr. West had anything in mind other than: I bet I can get a bunch of naked people on set if make a film about a porn movie being terrorized!
I wanted to like this movie, but ultimately it was about as generic as slashers come. Lame kills, unlikable characters, strange pacing, bad dialogue, etc. dragged this one down.
Overall, I would give it a very low STREAM IT rating.
Don’t pay to see this one on the big screen. In fact, I can’t recommend spending money on it at all. If it comes to Netflix or Amazon or one of the other streaming services and you are bored one night, maybe put it on. Otherwise, you would not be missing much if you skip it completely.
I really love slashers and horror movies and think that there is lots of room for horror films to create great discourse and feature thematic explorations of difficult subjects.
Most recently, we had Scream (2022) or Scream 5 if you are keeping track of the franchise numerically, which, while not the best entry in the franchise, proved that there is still interest in the slasher genre.
Unfortunately, X had very little to say, and, what it did have to say, it said poorly.
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