3 out of 5
Directed by: Ti West
Ti West has the unique place in horror – from my totally anecdotal point of view – of making several well received / reviewed horror flicks… that no one actually seems to enjoy. From afar, we nod in approval at West’s references to genre – specific flicks, specific eras – and at his slowburn approach that crawls to some eventually splatters of gore, but when I actually watch these things, and compare my opinions to other viewers, it seems we’re often aligned: his flicks are close to being something, and make the right moves, but ultimately whiff, and they’re of the type that don’t necessarily encourage you to rewatch.
X is a very Ti West-y film. It’s slow to get to its kills, and it goes in for another era mood-setting – late 70s – that allows West to go hard with some direct visual checks, primarily to TCM.
But at the same time, X ditches the director’s slavishly immersive aesthetic, and doesn’t try to keep a straight face while his characters – gathered at a remote farmhouse to make a porno, and cash in on the then VHS boom – are picked off one by one, slasher style. It’s really only West’s attempts at getting clever that hampers things, with some overt meta stuff and commentary that would’ve been a lot more amusing without feeling the need to explain it to us: the nature of horror ‘giving the audience what they want;’ the ravages of time on the relative “value” of our lives. This is all delivered with more direct snark than usual for West, which makes it tolerable within the flick’s overall kitschy framework, but it’s still stuff that the dialogue / themes ain’t quite capable of carrying.
However, that aside, the rest of X – its pace, its look, its kills – totally clicks. While there is that long pause to get to the bloody stuff, West effectively builds tension throughout by applying all his visual nods – stuff that worked in the era he’s referencing still works now, especially when revitalized so crisply by West and DP Eliot Rockett. It probably also helps that we have several cast members to ping between, and enough story bits and bobs to sift through while West plays purposeful grindhouse and cheeseball stuff against some unnerving shots of the old husband and wife on whose farm our porn crew is working.
There’s a transition point in this plotting where we kind of give up on character, but West knows to just start dropping kills in at that point, and those are effectively done.
Again, overreach is dotted throughout this thing, but those elements that we normally hear in West’s praises that, for me and those others, often fall flat in their actual application, are here most ideally and successfully used, making for a an average slasher that gets elevated by some amazing visuals and consistent tension.