Directed By Ti West
Starring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Martin Henderson and Kid Cudi
By Tim Basaraba
Slasher films are my least favorite kind of horror movie. Historically, the sub-genre has a history of good first entries followed by a long string of sub-par sequels that almost always fall flat. Great debuts like John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) and, to a lesser extent, the original Friday The 13th (1980) used the format to offer meaningful social commentary under the guise of a single, unrelenting personification of evil violently slashing their way through a series of unexpecting teenagers. Could this new entry in the subgenre, simply titled “X,” sit amongst these greats at the top of the slasher film heap? Or would it be just another turd at the bottom of the pile?
I fell in love with Mia Goth with her first film, Lar’s VonTrier’s Nymphomaniac: Vol. II. (2013). In it, she held her own on screen alongside greats like Charlotte Gainsbourg and showed that she was destined for greatness herself. Her work in 2018’s Suspiria proved it wasn’t a fluke; her haunting performance was the best among a strong ensemble cast. With X, Goth is asked to carry the film on her back as Maxine, a young porn actress, and she does so magnificently throughout the film…a feat that will become even more impressive as the credits roll. Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect) also plays a porn actress, Bobby-Lynne, but almost as a cliché, which works to further accentuate what’s so special about Maxine.
As we are introduced to the rest of the cast during the “road trip” portion of the first act we realize that each character represents a different view or attitude toward sex and sexuality. What is beauty? What is Love? These are questions director Ti West deftly deconstructs in the film’s final two acts as our ensemble cast arrives at their destination, which will inevitably be the final destination for most of them.
X does not shy away from the thing that makes slasher films popular – the gore. Our characters expire in inventive new ways throughout the film. But while fans may screech with glee over the shock and awe of these deaths, a deeper question is being asked: are we as disgusted by sexual images of withering flesh as we are by young flesh being eviscerated? Why do wrinkled and dilapidated bodies cause us to squirm when they touch each other but weapons tearing young bodies asunder do not? By the end of the film, we are left pondering this question… and perhaps a few other things we weren’t expecting a slasher film to force us to consider.
West’s slasher film debut may not be up there with Carpenter and Craven’s best, but it is a new thoughtful and well-crafted entry into the sub-genre. And certainly warrants a look at his seven previous films, of which I have only seen one – 2009’s The House of the Devil (2009). If the original Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street are both A’s and the original Friday the 13th is a C then X is a solid B.