By Amelia Jacob, First Year, English Literature
Independently made horror films are having somewhat of a renaissance in recent years, battling against the commercial, lazy scares of sequels and remakes. And Ti West’s X takes a format we have seen done many times before: a mismatched group heads to an isolated location, to do something they probably shouldn’t be doing. Add an unnerving elderly couple with a penchant for shotguns, silently watching their guests from the shadows, and you have the perfect combination to guarantee the camp goriness that characterises the slasher genre.
In West’s latest horror picture, X, our mismatched group of American Southerners are mixing business and pleasure, in the pursuit of making a porn movie that leader of the pack Wayne (Martin Henderson) swears will change the entire industry.
The opening is sedate and understated, providing an extended insight into the quaint and religiously oppressive Americana of the Deep South in 1979, whilst adding fleshed-out context to the characters’ interactions. Without a doubt, West's X ensures his induction into a hall of fame that includes Ari Aster and Jordan Peele.
The shots of the countryside look authentic enough that I was surprised to learn that X’s filming location was New Zealand. However, by the point of arrival at the homestead, this exposition is soon dropped in favour of a more traditionally horrific narrative. As night falls after the first day of filming, perverse and murderous tendencies are awakened in the elderly hosts that will put the guests in mortal peril.
The women of X are the true highlight. Satisfyingly, they are not the first to fall victim to the couple’s activities, and they are undoubtedly more complex than their slasher predecessors. Mia Goth’s Maxine is the key protagonist, a young woman who has a palpable ‘star quality’ and soaring career ambitions. She also has a bizarre resemblance to younger photos of the elderly woman, Pearl.
One of the most brilliantly executed scenes by West is the contrast of an uncomfortable interaction between Mia Goth’s Maxine and Pearl, against a sex scene that is being enthusiastically filmed by Bobbi-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and her boyfriend Jackson (Kid Cudi).
The film’s exploration of the suspense of pornography and horror uncovers startling similarities of the two genres, moulding opposite ends of a spectrum into something more circular.
Despite the stylistic success of X, West’s work falls short in comparison to other independent horror directors with the central interpretation of the story. At times it feels as though X is a commentary on the American Dream, at others an intriguing mediation on sexual currency in relation to ageing.
Neither of these concepts are fully explored and are often executed in a slightly clumsy manner. A musical rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’? Slightly on the nose. I came away not entirely sure what West was trying to tell us, and I’m not sure if he knows either.
The most important aspect of X is, no doubt, its playfulness. At its heart, the film is a dedication to old classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and West clearly relishes in executing his vision.
As X continues to revitalise the modern horror genre, I look forward to witnessing what else West decides to do within this cinematic universe.
Featured Image: IMDB
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