SXSW 2022: ‘X’ Offers Whimsy, Sex, and Violence in Texas

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X - But Why Tho

Horror films set in the 70s have a tall task. Not only do they need to nail the time period’s dialogue and costuming, but they also have to match the tone of the genre from that time, or at the very least understand how it relates to their story. ‘s latest film, X, embraces 1979 and meets this challenge head-on. Directed and written by West, stars Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, and Owen Campbell.

The much anticipated A24 horror film celebrated its world premiere at Austin’s SXSW 2022 and managed to deliver a period film that completely brought the setting to life and brought out violence that makes you jump. In X, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in rural 1970s Texas. Making the trip from Houston to the middle of nowhere, they find a boarding house on a farm that has seen better days. But when their reclusive, elderly hosts find out what their house and barn are being used for, the cast finds themselves fighting for their lives.

For the first half of the film, the focus of the story seems to be on the idea of purity culture and sex as a preacher’s voice breaks into scenes and the group of aspiring porn makers and stars directly confront ideas of monogamy and sexual freedom. In fact, is slow when it comes to getting into action and gore. Despite opening with the results of the film being walked over by Sheriff’s deputies and a cow gored on the road, West manages to hold back on a lot of violence.

Sure, there are some fairly detailed and unexpected kills, but is much tamer than the trailer lets on. Instead, West is focused on tackling ideas of sex, beauty, and who is seen as being able to have both. In fact, sex is the priority of the first two acts of the film. Or rather, confronting what sex means to people—or at least it is on the surface. The throughline of religion as a preacher talks on radios and television throughout the film is a red herring of sorts. While elements of purity are present, West’s real point is about age and how it relates to sexual intimacy and beauty and the process of losing those things.

This works as a main theme of X but with a run time of around an hour and 45-minutes, there is a lot of filler that becomes fodder for laughs or shock in between the more salient notes that West tries to put forward. In fact, the injection of religion into the film’s narrative seems slightly misplaced and more like a necessity given the setting of small-town Texas instead of pushing the plot. The religious elements aren’t bad, but they are disjointed from the majority of the film’s story, worked in as an overlay instead of something inherent to the motives of the characters.

That said, when gets bloody, it gets good. Even though it was less violent than I expected, the film itself offered up moments to make you jump, but more importantly, it varies the kills by offering more intimate flair to some as well. Shock, awe, and a whole bunch of uncomfortable make up the film’s last violent act.

finds itself someplace crossed between The Naked Director and Texas Chainsaw Massacrewith moments that feel reminiscent of the latter while the tone and the camera’s focus during sex scenes resemble the former. Initially, there is a pure comedy and whimsy that is pervasive throughout the film’s first two acts. Yes, a whimsy even with the sex and lines of cocaine. That whimsy morphs into uncomfortable moments as the tension ratchets up.

The film’s star is Mia Goth, who delivers a stunning visual performance as Maxine, the smalltown girl who is never going to accept a life she doesn’t think she deserves. She’s focused, intuitive, and the way she holds the camera is thanks to her unusual beauty, a fact that West turns into a plot point for the film. There is no one like Goth. Every character knows that, and the audience does too.

bucks expectations for a 70s slasher. The ending serves up subtle twists and West attempts to tell a moral lesson about embracing sex while the ticking clock of age moves us forward, as well as what we lose in the process. That said, the sometimes disjointed narrative all culminates in violence and a regaining of autonomy for our final girl that is both unexpected and welcomed.

had its world premiere at SXSW 2022 International Film Festival and will release nationwide March 18, 2022.


X
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

bucks expectations for a 70s slasher. The ending serves up subtle twists and West attempts to tell a moral lesson about embracing sex while the ticking clock of age moves us forward, as well as what we lose in the process. That said, the sometimes disjointed narrative all culminates in violence and a regaining of autonomy for our final girl that is both unexpected and welcomed.