Anyone who spends much time on Dreadit or flipping through the pages of Fangoria knows Ti West. The director put out some of the most well-regarded horror movies of the last few years with The Innkeepers and House of the Devil, as well as working on mumblecore horror hit You’re Next – all that to say that anticipation is high for his next work, A24’s X (and prequel Pearl).
Unfortunately, frustratingly, X doesn’t live up to the hype. It’s perhaps the worst kind of movie to see, the one where the great version of it is visible if only certain key missteps didn’t happen.
It’s 1979. Houston, TX. A cast of characters who we spend plenty of time with (but don’t really get to know) head out to the rural farmlands to shoot a porno. It’s a tale as old as time! When they get to the farmhouse they rented for a ‘weekend getaway,’ their hosts aren’t as hospitable as they hoped, and when the old couple finds out what the crew is really up to things take a turn.
Unfortunately for us, that turn doesn’t come for over an hour. Only after the characters have a scene to discuss how horror movies like ‘Pyscho’ can flip the script halfway through the movie to do something new, which is right where the wheels start to fall off.
Don’t get me wrong, the slow burn hour of various gratuitous (yeah, gratuitous even when the point of the movie up to this point is shooting a porno) sex scenes had those wheels squeaking, but when the film has to defend its choices overtly using other classics as precedent… well it just feels damn unconfident. Let the movie stand on its own.
About 35 minutes later and everyone is dead, in rather unremarkable ways, the tension is lost and the horror movie wraps itself up with a neat little bow.
The Good, The Potential
The conversation about sex, youth, bodies, and our agency over them. That’s all good. It’s a good thread to pull at and follow. The problem is that in spending the first hour focused almost solely on the rather two-dimensional victims, the movie has to speedrun an arc for the older people, Pearl and Howard. The two, played by Mia Goth and Stephen Ure are absolutely covered in heavy makeup and prosthetics to the point they no longer look human, or even spooky. Johnny Knoxville’s Irving Zisman in Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is more realistic looking.
And that’s a big problem! Very quickly the appearance of the old couple moves from uneasy to confusing to silly. Are Pearl’s eyes closed? Are the prosthetics hanging too low? The shots of Pearl lingering in the background, attempting to generate unease and fear instead draws chuckles at the absurdity.
There’s something tragic and almost beautiful about Pearl and Howard’s arc, their story. These are two people in love and at 90+ years it’s a beautiful, and twisted thing as the audience will discover.
The cast is also quite charming. Budding pornstars Jackson ( Kid Cudi), Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), Maxine (Mia Goth), producer Wayne (Martin Henderson) and crew writer/director/cinephile RJ (Owen Campbell) and boom operator Lorraine (Jennie Ortega), all of them have their moments where they shine and show off a spark. This cast is good. It’s what the movie does with them that’s disappointing.
When it’s time for the horror to fully kick in, most of the crew are taken out in rather disappointing, unfulfilling ways.
That is another problem here. In horror movies, more so than any other genre, the audience is crucially aware of the resources left available in the movie. There are this many cast members still alive. They have these weapons available. These are the escape routes. This many locations. The thrill is watching those resources dwindle in terrifying, or exciting fashion until it all comes down to the Final Girl (or Guy) and the Villain.
When the audience is aware of this limited pool of potential, the disappointments can feel much more acute, even wasteful. The first kill is probably the most interesting or visceral, the second pretty good, and then it goes downhill from there. When a favorite gets taken out of the film by a gunshot (all things considered) it just feels…. Like a waste. “That’s how they go?”
You only get one shot to make something special, satisfying, terrifying, or fun, and when you miss that – man it’s just a bummer. Fans looking for a silly slasher movie won’t get that. Those looking for the standard ‘elevated horror’ of A24 might like it OK, but it doesn’t sing like it should, or even as it could.
X is in theaters everywhere today!