***Warning: this article contains minor spoilers***
What do you get when you cross three pornstars, an alligator, and two really creepy old people?
If you’re waiting for a punchline, I’m sorry to disappoint, as that wasn’t an attempt at a bad joke. It’s the premise of the latest A24 film, X.
Directed by Ti West, X debuted on March 18th, facilitating a wholly overdue conversation of conglomerate societal ills. Inspired by slasher films of the 1970s, X surprisingly masters the very thing that distinguishes a successful horror film from a poor one: a chilling thrill.
The film centers around an adult movie cast and crew aiming to catapult to fame and stardom by revolutionizing the pornography industry. The group includes three pornstars, played by Mia Goth, Brittany Snow, and Kid Cudi, the executive producer of the low-budget film, played by Martin Henderson, and a couple on film/sound, played by Jenna Ortega and Owen Campbell. The merry six pile into a van and head to a farm in the middle of nowhere, the setting of their next movie, “The Farmer’s Daughter.” They are met by their host, Howard, an old, old man (I seriously can’t emphasize enough how old this man looks), and his equally geriatric and creepy wife Pearl. The group settles into their guest house and begins the filming process, dodging their landlords so as to avoid inevitable judgment.
The juxtaposition of sex-positivity and sex-shaming is one of the more obvious motifs throughout the film. The start of the film parallels an on-television preacher denouncing new-age ‘promiscuity’ and the adult-video crew en route to their filming, setting the tone for the movie by emphasizing the importance of contrasting beings and ideas. Perspectives on sexuality, and more acutely, pornography are touched on, providing background on a once so-taboo topic. With our desensitization to overly-accessible pornography, so much so that many wouldn’t raise an eyebrow upon finding out someone has an OnlyFans account, it can be difficult to envision a time where pornography was considered unmentionable. In a scene that serves as the calm before the storm, the group sits in the living room and discusses the change in the industry, moving from something enjoyed by ‘perverts’ to something readily available to people in the privacy of their own homes. The murders that ensue are a result of the older couple’s inability to accept the group’s ‘promiscuity,’ a direct metaphor for the way society has long reacted to sexual liberation.
Given the film’s obvious slasher genre, it’s safe to say that there’s no love lost with the untimely death of most of the characters. However, there is something to be said of the ways in which each character dies and the subsequent impact that it has on the movie as a whole. The film pivots from the initial plot point of filming the porno to a much darker theme when Mia Goth’s character, named Maxine, is invited over to the main house by Pearl. We learn that Pearl used to be a young and beautiful dancer, and as the film progresses, we see the obsession she forms with Maxine. As the unsuspecting killer in the movie, Pearl’s storyline develops as she demonstrates a profound sense of yearning–a kind of need for attention that can only be sated by a reversal of time so she can once again be young and beautiful. “Tell me I’m special,” she crows to her husband, begging to be seen in the once sexual light she had grown comfortable in.
The movie cultivates an eerie tone, quietly proclaiming that the unknowingly young and beautiful will also fall to the same fate as Howard and Pearl: aging, never having developed into anything more than ghosts of their once desirable bodies. While male sexuality is briefly touched on, the majority of the film centers around how Pearl aims to mirror Maxine, emphasizing how, as a society, we are deeply obsessed with youth and beauty. The value assigned to a young and beautiful woman in today’s society is a token that cannot be understated. The very premise of skincare and beauty industries today are inculcated in telling women that they must stay young forever. We go so far as to pitch ‘baby botox’ to women in their mid-20s to avoid developing wrinkles. We gush over celebrities that manage to look 10 years younger than their age. All of this pushes the message: you are only worthy if you have your youth and your beauty. This point is subtle throughout the film, but is made even more clear through the minor details. After taking her first victim, Pearl stands over the body and begins to dance softly, mimicking an old photograph taken of her dancing in her youth that was shown at the beginning of the movie. It’s through subtle acts like this that Pearl attempts to connect with her youth, despite the gestures having nothing to do with being young. Toward the end of the movie, Pearl yells out, “you’re not special” to Maxine, asserting that she will meet a similar fate.
The film is filled with subtle, chilling scenes that make it so accomplished. The fear did not come from the rather gory on-screen murders but was built in the anticipation of faint nuances stemming from the psychological distortions of the old couple. Overall, X accomplishes all it sets out to do: paying homage to the 70s slasher genre, composing beautiful cinematography and scripting a unique and memorable plot.
The Gavel rates this film an 8/10.