Whilst not short of bloodshed, Ti West’s X ultimately lacks an ambition and identity which even its 70s coat of paint can salvage.
Despite being unfamiliar with his other works such as The House of the Devil, X’s reveal attracted a key eagerness within myself due to the sheer oddity displayed in the film’s trailer. The obvious narrative inspiration on show from titles such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre suggest either two outcomes for X: either the film would be a creative reinvention of the prior works which inspired it or would be a soulless copy cat without anything particularly fresh under its belt. Upon my much anticipated viewing, its shame that the result is pretty much that of the latter. Though it does have its merits, the film’s meandering of predictability and over done cliches renders the film from ever being engaging or scary for that matter.
The film follows a troupe of filmmakers as they set out to make a porno in the lodge of a Texas farm. The elderly owners, however, begin to uncover what the crew’s actions which result in the narrative taking a brash, sinister turn. The film basically operates in the realm of two opposing genres which ultimately pass the torch from one to the another around X’s midpoint. At first, the film is much more enveloped in drama akin to a title like Boogie Nights. Some sequences are even tinted with melancholy especially as we see the parallels between the ageing couple and the young, lustful filmmakers. This is best demonstrated in a bittersweet montage – accompanied by a rather random cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide – which contrasts the livelihoods of both parties. The film’s first half does drag on, however, yet never feels as many of its potential ideas are never executed before seemingly abandoning its narrative style for the more horror orientated plotting we had been anticipating from the start.
When the horror does strike, it never really packs a real punch either. The escalation of tension is too sudden and makes me feel the filmmakers just wanted to get the film over with as soon as possible. The script also does not do the film any favours as its obvious foreshadowing early in runtime makes the second half feeling like it is simply tickboxing plot points which had already been hinted at. In turn, nothing ever feels like a shock. The film’s rushed plotting also affects the themes it tries to convey throughout. It is clear the film is trying to draw an opposition between Christianity and sex but never explores this in a convincing or clever way which makes you re-contextualise the film’s events. With better character development and more defined motives, the allegorical aspects of X would have been much clear but generally, they come across as simply too ambiguous for their own good.
What is admirable about X, however, is its visual effects and fantastic make-up. Goth is completely unrecognisable as Pearl, the old lady of the farm, and her equally unsettling performance of the character helps cement the actor as one of the most idiosyncratic within contemporary cinema. The blood and gore is also gruesomely executed in a squeamish manner which walks a fine line between realistic and bombastic. Some deaths were also rather hilarious due to their sheer extravagance and whilst never terrifying, they were memorable at least. Though the film also dawns some impressible camera work also, the editing style which is adapted sometimes can across as a headache. The sudden intermittent switches between scenes are almost epileptic and serve no real aesthetic purpose other than ‘just because’.
By its end, X feels like a head scratch. Though admirable for its all-out gore and oddball sequences, not even these can save the film from falling into a void of mere mundanity.