Movie Review: “X”

Sometimes I don’t always write about the most recent film I watched on Netflix or Hulu, or at the cinema, or wherever else I may’ve watched it. I have written reviews in someway, some form for more than a decade now and I would like to think it has helped me better appreciate them and celebrate them overall. It has inspired me to seek out films I may otherwise not have, all in favor of bringing a strong variation to what’s talked about on the Nightmare Shift.

As I’ve gotten older though, the window of time I have to watch films, much less write about them has decreased. Sometimes even films I absolutely loved like Lars Von Trier‘s The House that Jack Built go unreviewed and I convince myself that I’ll circle back again at a later year. What I’m trying too say in, perhaps, too many words, is that I almost didn’t write about this film. A lot of was, however, because I didn’t end up with a lot to say on its behalf.

X is an American slasher film (one more reason why it was so important I write about it for consideration in the Nightmare Deck) written, directed, produced, and edited by Ti West. Although I hadn’t seen anything prior from West, the director has had his name attached to some well-received horror fare like The Innkeepers and The Sacrament, as well as directing a series sequel with Cabin Fever 2. The cast is filled with familiar names like Jenna Ortega (a young up-and-comer who recently appeared in the latest Scream film), Brittany Snow (star of Would You Rather and the Prom Night remake), and others.

The film itself is a celebration of the subgenre, wearing more than a few homages and influences on its sleeve as its story starts to unfold. Straightaway, with our cast members loaded up in a van and cinematography that highlights the vast countryside, you’d be mistaken for thinking you accidentally put in Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

In response to the booming pornographic market, a group of people have loaded up in a van and now await the chance to unload in each other (on film for profit, of course). Everything’s well and good until they shack up at the boardroom of an elderly couple and find their porno unceremoniously thrust into becoming a slasher film.

As much as I wanted to complimented each and every aspect about this film, and I can’t help but struggle to overcome by own disappointment. In a way, I am at fault for that. The same way horror enthusiasts have learned to buck off times when mainstream critics rip apart each and every film released, the quality of what they compliment can sometimes vary as well. Often, it depends on what angle they want to take whenever they review the film.

As a celebration of the slasher genre, I can appreciate the way the film celebrates Tobe Hooper and I enjoy the practical effects that are implemented throughout, which can feel like a rarity to behold nowadays. All of that in mind, I have seen enough homages to Texas Chainsaw Massacre to last a lifetime, whether it was by Rob Zombie or Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo or somebody else, and a lot of times, I felt they more often captured the essence of what I liked about Texas Chainsaw Massacre than this film. It isn’t something we need much of anymore, and if you intend to, you best have a very good reason.

Somedays it feels like most horror is piggybacking of nostalgia or writing love-writers of some kind. I respect that, but there has to be a middle-ground between paying homage and creating the things that will one day be paid homage too.

After over an hour into this film’s hour and forty-six minute runtime, things start to happen, at last. When a film doesn’t offer the goods early on, we call them slow-burn films and applaud their patience and restraint. What complicates this though is when that time prior to isn’t used effectively to establish situations, build characters, or develop a strong storyline to amplify the horror that’ll follow it.

X is slow-burn in the same way a lot of slasher films from the eighties were slow-burn. Instead of doing anything I’d mentioned, it feels instead like it is trying to lengthen its runtime and fill itself up to a feature length. It isn’t as bad as the worst of them, like some of early camp slashers that would spend half an hour teaching us how to tie a knot and do cartwheels, but it isn’t anything that elevates the film either.

The actors involved are easy enough to become invested in and there is a charm to it. Jenna Ortega’s babyface and youthful innocence about her is so prevalent that the moment I even saw she was in the film, I was taken aback. She sells the character of the sheltered ‘Church Mouse’ thrown into uncharted waters before the film even starts. Likewise, Brittany Snow who, in spite her horror chops, I mostly associate with the Pitch Perfect series, is interesting to see in the role of a cheesy, wannabe pornstar.

The slashers of this film are, at least, somewhat interesting, but not enough is developed on their behalf. As unique as I thought their motivations were and as much as I enjoyed how they gelled and had symmetry with the film itself, I found that they were about as underdeveloped, typical, and throwaway as every character in this film.

As much as I wanted to like the film X, I didn’t, really. I didn’t hate it either though. Beyond the aspects I already mentioned, I liked other things too – like the shock of who I thought would make it out alive and who, ultimately, did and didn’t. Actress Mia Goth doubles as one of the characters on the defensive and as the older woman on the loose, once more highlighting the practical effects that were accomplished in the film.

Still though, all it amounts to is an, at best, slightly above-average slasher film, akin to a lot of what I’ve already seen. It isn’t as bad as some of the shlock released in the eighties, but it lacks the ingenuity and innovation to reach for much greater heights.

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