Let’s have a conversation about A24 and their latest horror film, X (2022). Since this independent film company began ten years ago, it’s truly made its mark in creating unique entertainment you’ll ponder long after the end credits have scrolled. Consequently, A24 films can, and will, divide their audience. Not everyone is looking for deep, artsy, or often weird experiences when watching a horror movie. Sometimes this is made worse by fellow enthusiasts who respond to A24 criticism with an air of superiority – You say you hated Midsommar? Well, maybe it was just too deep for you? Thereby fanning the flames even further.
Pretense aside, I’m definitely Team A24. I enjoy their bizarre trailers and spending the days after viewing their films contemplating what I’d just seen. This was especially true last year with Lamb (2021), a film so bizarre I’ve heard it described as “about as A24 as you can get.” Because they’re so nuanced, I consider many A24 features worthy of multiple viewings. Consequently, several are part of my physical media library. Having just seen X, I look forward to the day when it’s added to my collection as well.
I’ve struggled with how to share my thoughts in a “spoiler-free review” but finally came to the conclusion that this was a discussion, not a promotional piece, and shouldn’t be restricted, So be forewarned you’re on SPOILER ALERT for the remainder of this post.
The story takes place in 1979 and features a group of country-fried filmmakers traveling to rural Texas to make an adult film. They rent a guest house owned by an elderly couple whose shaky hospitality morphs into violence once they get wind of what their guests are up to. Director, Ti West, had already made his mark in horror with House of the Devil (2009), The Innkeepers (2011), or one of my other lesser-known favorites, The Roost (2005). Many of us were happy to hear of his return to the genre, especially once we saw X’s amazing trailer.
One of the things I loved about this movie is how humorously self-aware it is. Early in the story the crew’s cameraman, RJ (Owen Campbell), explains to one of their performers, Bobby-Lynn (Brittany Snow), that it’s not a dirty movie if you film it like French cinema. It’s the same approach Director, Ti West, is using for his film. In the late ‘70s, horror movies and pornography were both vilified forms of entertainment and you’ll be hardpressed to find any slasher as cinematic as this one. The shots and edits are creative and, although shot digitally, look like 35mm film.
It also comes across as remarkably fresh. This movie might remind you of horror films you’ve seen before while being in no way derivative. It effortlessly takes common slasher tropes and turns them on their heads. For example, slashers are often morality tales with a virtuous Final Girl set apart from her hedonistic friends. In contrast, X’s Final Girl, Maxine (Mia Goth) is a self-driven porn star with a cocaine habit. What she does have that most of the others don’t is self-awareness without judgment or guilt. In this story, the main characters aren’t punished for having sex though its villains arguably are.
My only complaint lies with the appearance of the elderly couple. Yes, I understand that Goth was playing dual roles including the old woman, Pearl. It was not unlike Tilda Swinton’s multi-role stint in Suspiria (2018) which included her portraying an elderly man. But while Swinton’s appearance was thoroughly convincing, X’s Pearl and Howard’s (Stephen Ure) occasionally took me out of the movie. It was almost like Grandpa Sawyer from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) got together with the old witch from Pumpkinhead (1988). I would have preferred they simply cast a pair of old actors “as is” like they did in The Visit (2015) or, at the very least, tone down the latex.
One thing I did not have a problem with was the film’s amazing score and pitch-perfect ‘70s soundtrack. At one point, Bobby Lynn sings a beautiful rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, After I got home, I looked up the song’s meaning and read “Landslide’ is about the fear of everything coming crashing down and not knowing how you’re going to hold things together in pursuit of a dream” which, looking back on the film, seems tailored specifically for Maxine and her determination to become famous.
The film has no overt agenda though it does appear to carry some heavy themes such as an older woman’s free agency and sexuality, the long-term cost of repression, and the importance of enjoying one’s youth to its fullest. Then again, maybe it’s just a straightforward horror story.
In this regard, I don’t see X dividing us horror fans as previous A24 films have been known to do. It absolutely lived up to its trailer’s promise and, whether you’re looking for simple entertainment or deep film discussions, you shouldn’t walk away disappointed from this one.