Ti West’s best films have explored the tension between old and new; his one-two breakthroughs Devil’s House and Innkeepers were steeped in the form and technique of horror subgenres of decades past, but executed with a deft, contemporary sensibility. His new movie, Xembraces this idea more literally and more confidently – and may be its greatest pleasure yet, at least for people who enjoy watching characters dismember each other.
The story of a group of filmmakers who encounter more than they bargain for while shooting an adult film, West’s latest simultaneously exploits two familiar storylines while delivering a rebuttal to the moralistic gender and sexual stereotypes that defined older horror scenarios. Shellacked in blue eye shadow, feathered hair and a gallon of lip gloss, Mia Goth commands the superstar adulation her character craves, while a supporting cast including Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Jenna Ortega and Owen Campbell navigate both low-budget pornography and backcountry terror.
gothic (Suspiria ’18) plays Maxine, a young pole dancer who agrees to star in an “executively produced” adult film by her fiancé Wayne (Henderson, doing a nice Matthew McConaughey impersonation) and starring fellow cast member Bobby-Lynne (Snow) and veteran boyfriend of Bobby-Lynne Jackson (Mescudi). Enlisting an overambitious young filmmaker named RJ (Campbell) to direct and his mouse girlfriend Lorraine (Ortega) to direct the sound equipment, Wayne piles the group into a van and heads to a remote farm outside of Houston. to turn the star of Maxine. masterpiece.
When they arrive at the farm, its octogenarian caretaker Howard (Stephen Ure) warns them not to disturb his reclusive wife Pearl, who he believes is ill. Despite their best efforts to follow Howard’s edict, the cast—and especially Maxine—begins to increasingly resent the presence of the rural landlords, whose reaction to the group’s lack of inhibitions strikes a difficult balance between revulsion and titillation, prompting them to question whether to stop filming or continue in the face of their hosts’ disapproval.
X is like a turducken of overplayed storytelling tropes – in the porn film, the traveling salesman who meets a farmer’s busty daughters after his car breaks down, and in the actual film, a group of oversexed youngsters who venture in a remote place and start digging where they shouldn’t. But West has a unique ability to take the beats of a familiar narrative or stylistic blueprint and modernize them so they don’t feel like a retread of previous films. Here, he harnesses audiences’ knowledge of sexual travelogues and mountain horror to first make them laugh and then undermine their expectations.
While Maxine and the other actors not only understand but accept the business of making a porn movie, their director RJ repeatedly aims to do something more artistic, which can be as much of a trap as a lofty goal. RJ thinks he’s better than the movie he’s making – an attitude that has turned many people off who dabbled in genre filmmaking for a quick price – but he quickly discovers that he doesn’t. is neither as imaginative nor as liberated as he thinks. Sometimes leaning into expectations is the way to get the best results, and in porn as in horror, the money shots are most meaningful when the filmmaker gives the audience what they want and then plays with it. an inventive way to do it. This is precisely the approach West has taken in his films, delivering the shock and dread that viewers have come to expect while throwing in a few surprises to throw them off balance. His kills possess cheerful, flashing style indulgences, such as splatters of blood painting a pair of illuminating headlights red, which serve as both punchlines and protectors of the atmosphere he created in the buildup. of those times.
With her buttoned nose, freckles, and roller-skating disco style, Goth feels perfectly cast as a ’70s porn starlet, and like in Suspiria, the actress continues to lend effortless complexity to characters that don’t necessarily need it. She and Snow amplify West’s reverent portrayal of their characters’ professional exposure by exuding not just a fearlessness but almost a banal comfort with their bodies that too many movies that fictionalize porn (or frankly choose to include nude scenes ) fail to capture . Both actresses adopt an empowered and sex-positive attitude that is reflected in the film. And while (spoiler alert) a number of characters end up on the business side of some barnyard tools, X is not interested in punishing them for their sexuality, Friday 13and style.
Conversely, West creates counterparts in Howard and Pearl who are more fully realized than most horror “antagonists.” He doesn’t go so far as to try to get us to sympathize with them (at least not as much as with the younger characters), but he does present their point of view in a vaguely empathetic way, even if they occasionally go wrong. to express in a more lethal way. And West actually yearns to explore some deeper and more complicated concepts than survival or sex on film. In particular, he examines how youthfulness in others seems to bring out the feeling and impact of age in ourselves, not to mention how we resist or react to it when it happens.
From an opening shot framed like a 16mm film door to the glowing red title card that resembles the MPAA rating system, West cooks up an orgy of 1970s cultural ephemera in a disjointed visual look of the American International Pictures era that evokes everything from Deep Throat for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and all the sensations that go with it. If he errs on the side of the obvious when needle-throwing Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” West otherwise assembles a bulletproof list of immediately evocative ’70s AM radio classics. for its soundtrack, while Goth’s overalls and Snow’s rust-colored romper immediately evoke the likes of Jodie Foster in Taxi driver or Kristy McNichol in Little Darlings.
But ultimately that aesthetic is an act of subterfuge, much like the conventions of both story-telling: while you languish in period performance and detail, West sneaks in to pull the rug out from under your feet or to shave some. cliche outdated. X is bloody and fun.