In the opening minutes of “X,” director Ti West’s latest horror flick, two small-town police officers stumble upon a gruesome crime scene at a remote farmhouse, clues to the previous night’s carnage strewn throughout the scene. wide area. This terse, taut prologue sets the stage for what’s to come – regardless of the details, one can be sure that plenty of explicit violence is in store.
However, it’s not just the violence in “X” that’s explicit. The film follows Maxine, Bobby-Lynne, RJ, and other members of a group of Texas filmmakers and actors who hit the road to shoot a low-budget movie. About ten minutes into “X,” Bobby-Lynne, an actor played by Brittany Snow, asks RJ, the director and cinematographer played by Owen Campbell, to fire a gas nozzle from a surprisingly phallic angle. As this scene makes clear, they aren’t just independent filmmakers — they’re pornographers, hoping to cash in on the home video boom of the late 1970s.
At first glance, this ragtag crew seems to have found the perfect location to shoot their latest adult film, “The Farmer’s Daughter.” As soon as they arrive at the farm interviewed in the prologue, the estate and the boarding house they intend to film seem to be perfectly suited to this particularly rustic film.
There’s only one problem, though: the owners and residents of the farm, elderly couple Pearl, played by Mia Goth, and Howard, played by Stephen Ure, are obviously out of whack. Their madness only increases when they find out exactly what their tenants are up to, initially unbeknownst to these menacing seniors. Shortly after Pearl spots the crew filming an explicit sex scene, all hell starts breaking loose.
Turns out West is better with foreplay than climax. The first hour or so of “X” is superb – the director and screenwriter brings out the suspense with a long, slow burn of a setup. West takes his time establishing his central setting, characterizations, and atmosphere, to great effect. There is great specificity in the portrayal and interaction between all of the central characters, each of them possessing distinct personalities that delve deeper and reveal new layers as the film unfolds.
The performances are uniformly excellent, with Goth in particular playing her role as the film’s feisty, drug-addicted protagonist, Maxine. She’s also extremely creepy in her other role as one of the film’s antagonists, Pearl – the fact that she remains terrifying, despite the mounds of prosthetics she’s been forced to wear to convincingly play an old woman, testifies to the strength of her performance.
West also does a great job of creating a decidedly uneasy atmosphere, wallowing in the goofy, sunny menace of the Texas countryside. There’s a remarkably suspenseful scene involving an alligator, which ranks as the film’s most terrifying and indelible moment.
Unfortunately, once the mayhem begins in earnest, the film loses some of the control it always showed before the film’s third act. There’s a lot to love about this film’s wild final third – the movie is never less than entertaining, and the extended climax is full of memorable shocks, intense moments, and memorable bloody violence. Still, after the precision of the film’s first hour, it’s hard not to think that the film deviates a bit.
West doesn’t always show the strongest hand on the film’s extreme carnage. Some of the violence feels a little unimaginative, and the film’s sudden onslaught of incidents can’t help but feel a bit random. The film also ends with a closing line and post-credits scene that seems too ironic for their own good.
Despite the film’s closing stumbles, “X” is mostly a treat. The film is a real gem for most of its runtime, and even its weaker sections make for satisfying entertainment. Although the film does thematically quite well, its greatest pleasures are simple and unassuming – it’s full of atmosphere, sex and violence, and it’s a blast.