Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi/Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, James Gaylyn
Written by: Ti West
Directed by: Ti West
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, and language
Running Time: 105
Date: 03/18/2022

X (2022)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Smut to the Chase

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

More than just a stylish grindhouse throwback, this gorefest explores sex and violence in fresh ways, taking into account the taboo subject of aging bodies, and balanced with moments of wry humor.

It's 1979 in Houston, Texas. The purveyor of a burlesque club, Wayne (Martin Henderson), climbs into a van with two of his sex workers, his girlfriend Maxine (Mia Goth) and blonde Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), Bobby-Lynne's boyfriend and male sex worker Jackson (Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi), filmmaker RJ (Owen Campbell), and sound recordist Lorraine (Jenna Ortega).

Their destination is a remote house on a ranch, owned by a strange elderly couple. There, they hope to film an adult-oriented movie, The Farmer's Daughters, and make a fortune in the burgeoning home video market. The shoot begins well, but the old lady begins to exhibit extra-creepy vibes, leering at the youngsters. Over dinner and beers, Lorraine decides to be in the movie as well. A distraught RJ storms off into the night, thus setting off a shocking cycle of violence and gore.

It's no surprise that the confident direction is by Ti West, whose The House of the Devil — with its similar throwback style — has already become a horror classic, and whose other genre works deserve the same fate. The look and feel of X comes from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre textbook, and West understands it inside and out, not only its shock and gore, but also its sense of place and unexpected comic touches. He uses it to create his own thing, rather than a slavish copy.

For example, in traditional horror, sex is equated with death, but in X, sex is natural, and freeing. Even though these women are sex workers and are making "smut," they seem in control of their bodies... that is, until the attacks start coming. These are fueled partly by faith-based righteousness, and partly by jealousy of youth and beauty. It's a deadly combination, and certainly West could have gone deeper with it, but instead he focuses on sheer sensation.

Some shots, like the click of a basement light switch, a casual swim in a pond (accompanied by a hungry 'gator), and a protruding nail, create giddy squeals that are practically old-fashioned. The combination of shock, titillation, and laughs may seem a bit messy, but that may be precisely what X is really all about.

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