“X” – The year is 1979.
Leonardo DiCaprio was five years young. The Seattle Supersonics won the NBA Title. “The Dukes of Hazzard” kicked off its first season. The OPEC crisis gripped the nation, and gas at the pump rose to 81 cents a gallon.
(To be fair, 43 years ago, $ 0.81 was a lot of dough. Perhaps, $5.50 in today’s dollars?)
Well, writer/director Ti West sets and primes his new slasher film between two classics of the genre, 1978’s “Halloween” and 1980’s “Friday the 13th”.
“X”, however, doesn’t feel a whole lot like those two horror grandfathers. Instead, West seems to delightfully frolic in other terrifying remembrances from yesterdecade with an unsettling setting similar to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) and the creepy cinematic stylings of “Burnt Offerings” (1976) and – much more recently – “The Eyes of My Mother” (2016). Add his nifty modern-day camerawork and some flat-out devilish brainstorms, and West builds a case – to borrow a line from Billy Joel – that “the good ole days weren’t always good.”
When “X” opens, we meet Wayne (Martin Henderson), and this go-getter seeks monetary rewards. He runs the Bayou Burlesque, a Houston strip bar about the size of a double-wide that sits next to a refinery.
A businessman through and through, he hopes to capitalize on the home video boom by making an adult film with two dancers, Maxine (Mia Goth) and Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), and a friend, Jackson (Kid Cudi). The director, RJ (Owen Campbell), who looks like he just graduated from his mother’s basement, and his girlfriend, Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), also join the quadruple as they hop in a van and drive to a distant ranch for their shoot.
The motivated cast and crew won’t film at the main residence, but inside a nearby wooden casita – sitting on the property – with zero luxuries. Think “The Evil Dead” cabin on a semi-good day.
Still, this is the 1970s, so, “Let’s Disco!”
If the remote locale and no-frills accommodations weren’t inviting, the owner of the place, an elderly fella who wears a lifetime of hardship on his face (Stephen Ure) has all the pleasantries of a tired wolf caught in a bear trap for 72 hours…or years. Still, Howard (Ure) rents his ligneous chalet to Wayne and company but isn’t aware of their intentions.
Bobby-Lynne asks, “He don’t know what we’re doing, does he?”
“It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission,” Wayne responds.
You’d be right if you feel that Howard’s layout could eventually snare this gang in danger, and they should film their adult movie somewhere else, perhaps at the aforementioned refinery. No such luck…for them
“X” is a sinister and compelling horror movie. It’s awfully bloody at times, but West takes ample care and time to set a brooding mood and build a sound foundation during the feature’s first half to deliver payoffs in spades during its second. The central theme begins and ends with one of the genre’s deadliest sins, sex, but the script adds a specific layer of intrigue, a motivation for revenge that this review won’t reveal. Fans of HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” (1989 – 1996) should recall a similar antagonist’s drive for disdain, and in both the TV show and here, this particular primal view derives from scars lying terribly deep and but also in plain sight…for “everyone” to see.
Although shot in New Zealand, this film certainly looks and feels like Texas, and with a recurring Bible Belt citation, the mayhem bathes in the stark contradiction of pious outlooks with primordial aggression.
With its adult-film premise, “X” is probably not the best choice for a movie night with Grandma. Still, all 105 minutes reside within rated-R boundaries and proudly deliver slasher-film virtues for fans.
During West’s Southern Hemisphere stay, he also filmed a prequel, a future release about this story’s sinful past.
How much was a gallon of gasoline in 1969, 1959, or 1929?
Good question. Well, save your pennies for another movie ticket.
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Written and directed by: Ti West
Starring: Mia Goth, Brittany Snow, Jenna Ortega, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, and Stephen Ure
Runtime: 105 minutes
Image credits: A24