The year is 1979 and the easiest way to get rich and become a star is to appear in a porno film. At least, that’s what Maxine (Mia Goth) and her older boyfriend, Wayne (Martin Henderson), think. Wayne’s the producer. Maxine is one of the stars. The name of the movie is going to be The Farmer’s Daughter and it’s going to star Jackson Hole (Kid Cudi) as a man who stumbles across as a farm and gets to know the farmer’s daughters, played by Maxine and Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow). Directing the film will be a film student-turned-director named RJ Nichols (Owen Campbell). Holding the boom mic and otherwise helping out will be RJ’s girlfriend, Lorraine (Jenna Ortega). Lorraine may say that she’s not impressed with the idea of working on a pornographic film but everyone an tell that’s a lie. Everyone except for RJ, of course….
Wayne has even found a farm where they can shoot. The farm belongs to Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (Mia Goth, made up to look like she’s in her 80s). Howard suspects that Wayne is making an adult film and he doesn’t exactly approve of it but it also appears that he and Pearl could use the money. Howard warns Wayne not to bother Pearl while they’re filming. However, it doesn’t take long for Pearl to wander out of the house and to discover what’s going on in the guest house. That night, people start to die….
X caused quite a stir when it was released earlier this year, with critics declaring it be a horror classic. I finally watched the film last week. X is undeniably a well-made film and it deserves a huge amount of credit, in this repressed era of trigger warnings, for not holding back on either the violence or the sex. Mia Goth deserves all of the praise that she’s received for playing both Pearl and Maxine. At first, it might seem like stunt casting to cast Goth in both roles but actually, it works well with the film’s subtext. Pearl wants to kill Maxine (and her friends) because they represent the youth that she’s lost. Maxine initially fears Pearl because she represents the inevitability of getting older. Unless you die young, you’re going to get old and much of Maxine’s actions are all about doing whatever it takes not to get old. If that means running straight into danger while fueled only on cocaine and fury, that’s what Maxine is going to do. The cocaine that Maxine snorts is as important to the story as Pearl’s resentment, Wayne’s greed, and the preacher who continually appears on television. Maxine probably couldn’t do half of what she does in the film if she wasn’t continually snorting coke and it’s significant that the other characters in the film remain relatively drug-free. Cocaine is a drug for those who want to confident and free of the worries and the self-doubt that comes with age. X becomes a film about the battle between the young and the old, a conflict that has defined much of recent history as the younger generation wonders when the older generation is finally going to surrender their power.
At the same time, it’s hard not to feel that the film itself was a bit overpraised by critics who were stunned to discover that a horror film could feature good acting, carefully composed shots, and clever editing. Judging from some of the reviews, you would get the feeling that some of these critics have never seen a subversive horror film before. X is a well-made slasher film that refuses to buy into the old trope that one has to be an innocent or a good person to survive a film like this. Indeed, the biggest mistake that people make in X is to trying to do the right thing. But it’s hardly the first film to comment on the rules of the genre by breaking them.
In the end, the most important thing about X is that it’s an effective and well-made horror movie. Visually, the film does a great job of capturing the isolation of rural Texas and all the members of the cast do a good job bringing their characters to life, even if some of the country accents a bit overdone. Martin Henderson is amusing playing a role that seems like it was written for Matthew McConaughey and Jenna Ortega does a good job playing a character who manages to be both annoying and sympathetic. (She’s far better here than she was in The Fallout.) The film ultimately belongs to Mia Goth, playing two different characters who both seem destined to meet the same fate.
As far as Ti West horror films go, X is never as energetic or as much fun as The House of the Devil. But still, it’s a good rural slasher film.