Opening this weekend in theaters, A24’s latest horror film X (2022) offers a new take on the classic slasher by mixing the erotic nature academics have long discussed in the horror genre with commentary on the filmmaking industry and it’s the voyeruistic relationship with its audience. Directed and written by Ti West, the synopsis is as follows:
In 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, but when their reclusive, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast find themselves fighting for their lives.
Filmed in a classic grainy 16mm style, X is a love letter to classic 70s exploitation horror in the vein of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It has some delicious gore, but also, in a modern twist, charming characters you root for despite the inevitable. But to really appreciate X, you need to look deeper.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
In an interview with Ti West released by A24, he discusses the craft of filmmaking and his goals in crafting X:
During my time off I revisited a lot of films that I love – particularly those from the 1970s. There was such a reverence for the art of cinema during that decade. Mainstream films respected and challenged their audience’s appreciation for filmmaking, and independently-produced exploitation films catered unapologetically to titillating the subversive taste of the masses. My goal with X was to hopefully somehow capture the best of both worlds. To make you think about the craft of filmmaking while still having a fun night out at the movies.Ti West, “A Note from Ti West”
The film definitely lives up to this, playing on characters’ views of sex, relationships, and voyeurism to discuss the nature of erotic films. There’s tension as the young, sex-positive film crew ventures into conservative territory. This tension manifests as a patriarchal rage, manifesting the moment Howard (Stephen Ure) greets the producer Wayne (Martin Henderson) with a shotgun. Howard’s wife Pearl also rages as her own internalized misogyny drives her to murder first the young men who don’t find her attractive, then the young women she envies. Her choices are phallic, stabbing motions. One young man she attempts to seduce. When he rejects her, she stabs him in the throat; then she straddles him before stabbing his throat until it’s a ruin. Finally, overcome with erotic emotion, she dances in a slow, delicate fashion — as a former ballet dancer, she seeks to recapture her youth through destroying the lives of others. And slowly, she shifts her behavior to mimic the young people she spies on and murders in a vain attempt to recapture the sexual spark in her marriage.
This is definitely a film worth watching, though some audiences may be put off by the discussion of an elderly couple’s sex life (or lack thereof). It’s certainly a film I want to analyze further.