X (2022)

Quick synopsis: A group of people try to film a porn movie at a cabin belonging to an old couple, who strongly oppose the idea and decide to show their thoughts on the matter by writing a strongly worded letter to the local council. No wait, they murder them.

If you are thinking of watching this, go see it at the cinema. Not because it’s particularly great and you need to watch it immediately, but because the title means it’s going to be a bitch to find on a streaming site.

Let’s get one thing out of the way; this is not for everybody. It’s heavily focused on sex and violence, so unless you’re comfortable with both of those things, you won’t like this. It doesn’t shy away from the violence, and it doesn’t shy away from the sex. The whole thing feels slightly grubby, which is something that works in its favour. This isn’t a modern film, it’s a 70’s throwback in terms of style. It does work a lot of the time, and Ti West is a talented enough director that you never forget the time period that it’s set in. Now, as anybody who read my review of Censor knows, I love my throwback films. Especially when it comes to horror. And I don’t shy away from films about sex and killing people (I mean, one of those things is my favourite thing to do on weekends). I also like films about film-making, and am not afraid to see them going weird, as seen in Black Bear). So in some ways, this film was designed for me, yet I’m not that fond of it.

Part of that is because of how it sometimes utilises the throwback style in terms of film-making. The gimmick of “it’s edited like a 70s film” actually kind of gets in the way sometimes. There are far-away shots that don’t really tell us anything, and moments where it cuts to something for a second and then cuts back. It’s jarring, but not in a “horror movie making me feel unsettled” way, but in a way “this was edited manually and they botched it”. So it feels less like a throwback love letter to a genre, and more, just incredibly dated.

My main issue though? The same issue I have with a lot of modern horror films. The same issue I had with The Gallows, Unfriended, Don’t Breathe, Escape Room 2, Fantasy Island: I don’t like the characters. They’re annoying, selfish, not that likeable. So when they die, you’re not sad, or emotionally affected at all. If anything, you’re relieved.

The only slightly sympathetic character is one of the killers. She has a tragic backstory and her motivations do kind of make sense, although it’s never clarified exactly why that drives her to murder. She doesn’t get as much focus as the other characters though. The film spends so much time developing doomed characters, and not the location. At one point one of the characters finds the rotting corpses of a naked man in the basement, and someone else finds (presumably) his car in the lake (in a delightful shout-out to Psycho). Those things are glossed over really quickly. Was that person the only one? Or do they have a long history of this? The film comes close to answering this. One of the characters escaped the couple, and overheard them talking about throwing a body in the river. The actual ending of this is in the trailer, one of the cops finding a camera, “what’s on there?” “probably some fucked up horror movie”, END!

So, is she the reason the police are there? If so, why aren’t they draining the lake? If not, then why are they there? There are no houses nearby for people to have overheard the commotion. Really, they’re there to bookend the story, but it’s done quite poorly. Just full-on ape the ending of Psycho and show the car being retrieved, and then news footage of the discovery of bodies, to let us know this wasn’t a one-time thing, they’ve been doing it for years. I mean, think of the shot that ends From Dusk Till Dawn, where the camera pulls out and you realise the bar is not only built on an Aztec temple, but there are hundreds of vehicles there, all of them belonging to drivers who didn’t survive previous nights there. It’s not talked about often but it’s one of my favourite ending shots because it provides a history to everything, it shows that this has happened a lot before, and we’re just lucky enough to see the ending of a story that’s been being told for years. It hints at hundreds of untold stories just like the one we witnessed, only with unhappier endings. As opposed to this, which ends with nothing of substance.

I think it tried substance, there’s a preacher being shown on the television throughout, and at the end, it’s revealed that the main character is his daughter, who ran away to star in porn. A reveal that changes………..absolutely nothing. It doesn’t change what we think of her, or the situation, or anybody else in the film. It adds absolutely nothing outside of irrelevant backstory. It might as well have ended with “And that house where all the murders happened? It used to be a slave ranch”. It’s like, “yeah, and? Who gives a shit, that’s not relevant. Stop padding your word count”.

None of this takes away from the unarguable talent of everybody involved. Mia Goth continues to usually be the best thing in every film she stars in. Jenna Ortega has a great “final girl” quality (as anybody who watched the new Scream can testify), Martin Henderson has a strange, slightly Matthew McConaughey-esque quality to his performance.

So in summary? Maybe see this, some of you will like this a lot more than I did, and some of you won’t. It just wasn’t for me.

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