Bloody Disgusting’s X movie review is spoiler free.
It’s been almost an entire decade since writer/director Ti West‘s last horror feature, The Sacrament. Far too long. Luckily, West ensures that the wait has been worth it with A24’s X, an homage to the gritty indie horror of the ’70s but with savage style and a deranged sense of humor that’s pure Ti West. A deceptively simple setup gives way to a go-for-broke horror-comedy that leaves you breathless, both from laughter and nail-biting tension.
Set in 1979 Texas, X opens to the aftermath of a bloodbath, to the befuddlement of local officials. Cut to 24 hours earlier, where a group of aspiring adult filmmakers load up in a van and drive from Houston out to the boonies to shoot. Producer Wayne (The Ring’s Martin Henderson) attempts to cut every corner for their limited budget, first by securing a young cinephile to direct, RJ (Owen Campbell), who’s brought girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) to assist and handle the boom mic. Wayne’s listed his girlfriend Maxine (mia goth), Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), and Jackson (Scott Mescudi) to star. Then he’s rented a boarding house on the cheap from the reclusive, elder Howard (Stephen Ure), who warns them to stay out of his wife’s sight.
The porn production quickly devolves into a fucked up horror picture when things spiral out of control.
West has many surprises in store for X, but the first straight out of the gate is just how wickedly funny it is. From the little details like “Plowing Service” emblazoned across Wayne’s van to the consistent tongue-in-cheek euphemisms befitting of the adult film production, X has a delightfully wicked sense of humor. Snow and Mescudi stand out for their line delivery and comedic timing; their character gags and one-liners land with perfection.
The second significant shock in store is how fiercely the filmmaker matches the comedy with the horror. While it’s no surprise that West knows how to build tension, he brings it to a whole new level here. West, who co-edits with David Kashevaroff, finds ingenious and innovative ways to create edge-of-your-seat suspense through editing. Spliced scenes don’t just create visual interest; they deliver potent scares. Overhead shots instill unease, a masterclass of terror and foreshadowing with gratifyingly intense payoffs later. West’s intoxicating blend of style and scare-crafting creates a visceral horror experience.
That doesn’t even begin to cover the gore of it all. X is a crowd-pleasing doozy when it comes to brutal bloodletting and kills. Some deaths leave you queasy, and some will leave you cackling with glee. All of it is immensely satisfying.
X is West firing on all cylinders. The commitment to the period is top-level, capturing the aesthetic and vibe without ever coming close to feeling pastiche. It’s all the most impressive considering just how much humor gets injected, which could’ve pushed this into spoof territory quickly in other hands. The editing is a masterclass, a marvel of how West structures this wild tale to maximize the tension or offer reprieve through an onslaught of terror.
Then there’s the cast. The lean, straightforward narrative gets straight to the goods and never wastes time on heavy exposition. It’s all in the little details and the talented cast making these characters feel lived-in with a shared history. We root for this wacky, free-spirited bunch because they’re so charming and genuine. Naturally, it lends well to the horror’s impact.
The setting and period make for easy comparisons to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and West uses that to lull viewers before pulling the rug out from under them. They share similar DNA and pure grit, but it’s a narratively different beast that demonstrates why West should be given full reign to go full throttle on deranged, savage, and intense horror-comedies more often. It’s a blast.
X releases in theaters on March 18, 2022.